Action Learning – a better way to collaborate and communicate together…

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3194 photo: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3194
photo: Mark Trezona

Here are my newest thoughts about the discipline and magic that make Action Learning so potently transformational…

I had lunch last week with Alison Johns, a wonderful friend and colleague who I first met nearly twenty years ago when we were completing our MAs in Management Learning & Leadership. This was when I first discovered Action Learning, the framework that has changed my practice forever, as much, I confidently dare to believe, as it has transformed the lives and accomplishments of many of the people who have participated in its process.

In the Shaky Isles Theatre Company we have used Action Learning as the main framework for coming together to grow and sustain the company for a year now.  And more and more we are also using Action Learning inside our performance making process, as well, to sustain and nourish our creative learning alongside our show creation.

I am also currently facilitating Action Learning with a group of Rajni Shah Project artists to support their co-creation activities, and here, too, the discipline and framework of Action Learning is weaving across and into Board meetings, producing some really exciting new conversations and ways of working together.

In another application, Nicki Maher is starting to use Action Learning as a way to develop and grow Opaz, the Turkish music ensemble she leads.

And I am about to work with Tesse Akpeki to deliver training in using Action Learning for people who support or lead Trustee Boards.

These newer applications of Action Learning are continuing to amplify the belief, trust and joy that I have always found facilitating this process with very many very different groups of professionals and leaders, teachers and artists, teams and freelancers – not to mention my own invaluable membership of an Action Learning group that have been meeting regularly together since 1998.

With this in mind I wanted to try to uncover some of my newest thinking and insights about the disciplined magic that is Action Learning, and, alongside this, to provide a jumping off point for you to try it for yourself with the people you either work with or feel drawn to spend some time with uncovering fresh ideas and new ways to progress the things that most matter to you.

Sky Through Soundpod (Chelsea College of Art & Design, 2013)  photo: Mark Trezona

Sky Through Soundpod (Chelsea College of Art & Design, 2013)
photo: Mark Trezona

A Practitioner’s Guide to Action Learning

Reg Revans invented Action Learning to provide a ‘clean space’ in an overly noisy and overly directed world, to give people enough freedom and enough solid framework to be able to uncover and discover our own best thoughts and insights to become freshly inspired to act, fuelled by our own creative expectations and sustained by our continually expanding capabilities.

Revans was convinced that for an organisation to survive its rate of learning must be at least equal to – and ideally greater than – the rate of change in its external environment – this became known as Revans’ Law: Learning must be > or = Change.

The Action Learning process has developed over the last sixty years as a method for individual and organisational development. As a process Action Learning can be challenging and informative. Within organisations Reg Revans described it as “the outward communication of doubt” – an opportunity for people to engage with and work through what is unfamiliar, uncertain and not known and identify action which could make a positive difference to their own and the organisation’s effectiveness. For example, he was one of the first to introduce to the National Health Service the idea that nurses, doctors and administrators needed to listen to and understand each other – and action learning groups offer the opportunity.

In any attempt to describe Action Learning, it is essential to say that Revans rightly advises us that the only way to really know what it is, is to do it. With that in mind, here are the instructions we follow in our practice, which we hope will give you enough to be able to try it for yourself.

In the form of Action Learning we use, the available time is divided first into two parts: a first part for Action Learning itself, and the second part to work the ideas and progress the material that has emerged out from the individual contributions.

The Action Learning time itself is divided equally among the individuals present. Each person then has that amount of Clean Space time to bring to the table whatever is most live and prescient for each of them.  And during this time the rest of the group cannot interrupt or comment in any way. Once each person has said as much as they want to, the rest of us offer them open creative thinking questions for whatever Clean Space time remains.

The Clean Space Process

Space:

1. A continuous area or expanse which is free, available, or unoccupied

2. A stretch of time

3. The amount of material used or needed to write fully about a subject

4. The freedom to live, think, and develop in a way that suits you best

Before you start agree how much Clean Space time each person will have and who will keep time.

In your Clean Space time…

1 ~ Say whatever you want to say. Be as selfish as you can be about what you want to bring to the table.  Talk from your own head and heart and don’t worry or care about what anyone else needs to hear. 

No interruptions, comments or questions from anyone else during this phase.

2 ~ Once you have said all you want to say, you respond to open creative thinking Questions given to you by the rest of your group.

Again, be completely selfish about how you want to respond to any question you get: you decide what it means and how you want to answer it, if at all.

The rest of the group seek to bring you moments of spontaneity – questions that open you up to fresh new thinking and insights.

Resist saying anything except Open Questions during this phase. The best questions will be a gift for the person who receives it, and they will feel and often say “That’s a great question…”

Use “Why…?” questions sparingly.

3 ~  (optional and only if time –at least 2minutes of each person’s Clean Space time) 

You ask whatever you want to from others in the group.

If there are no questions you want to ask people, use this time to draw together the thinking and ideas you are going away with.

Allow about 10% of Clean Space time for this, but shift into it sooner if the person who has the Clean Space is repeatedly saying “I don’t know…” to your questions.

Helpful Capabilities for Action Learning

o   Being fully present

o   Alert, neutral, open, heightened listening

o   The Fine & Difficult Art of Asking Really Great Open Questions

o   Being utterly selfless and tuned in to what the Clean Space holder is trying to get when it is not your Clean Space time

o   Being supremely selfish about what you want to bring and get from your own Clean Space time

o   Wondering your not-knowing out loud: bringing what you don’t know to the table

o   Being open to surprise

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3191 photo: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3191
photo: Mark Trezona

This set of simple rules sets up the conditions for a very different way of thinking and communicating that lead almost inevitably to new insights and fresh possibilities for action.  When repeated over a series of meetings it replaces our usual default ways of listening and thinking with better ways that are far more open, expansive, diverse, inclusive, and actively engaged.  And over time, the disciplines and capabilities it demands from us start to become easier, more natural, and much more our new ‘normal’.

We shift our perspective; we shift our balance…

…from only paying attention to the information that immediately interests us to listening out and trying to pick up much more of what is being said and its many nuances;

…from narrowing the conversation down and heading off too quickly on a particular tangent, to exploring the situation in greater depth and from a wider range of perspectives;

…from talking more about things and re-presenting conclusions and ideas that we have already decided upon, to uncovering what we think and feel during the act of talking about it;

…from bringing our certainties and defending our established points of view, to bringing more of our uncertainties and opening out what we don’t know or yet have answers or solutions for: dialogue means discovering the meaning through communication;

…from only having the ‘need-to-have’ conversations, to unearthing extraordinary and surprising insights and solutions from conversations that arise out of what matters most to each of us;

…from tending to get most of the input from the more talkative amongst us, to getting and thus profiting from, an equal contribution from all of us, realising and optimising the inherent diversity that otherwise lies hidden and buried underneath our different communication styles and preferences;

…from prescribing the desired goal or outcome and restricting our thinking to what seems to be most relevant and strategic to its achievement, to keeping more open to discovering higher value aspirations that emerge and progress organically from the material of what people bring to the table;

…and from excited intentions that are too soon forgotten or lost to louder demands, to achieving ever widening results that spiral up from our collective learning ~ out to action ~ back into heightened learning ~ and out to new action ~ and so on in an increasingly reliable and self-powered momentum.

Perhaps the most surprising discovery to be made in Action Learning is that, very often, our greatest joy and discovery comes less from what we bring during our own Clean Space and much, much more from what we get from the ‘enforced’ listening we give during other people’s.

It is also helpful to know that Action Learning is not only for a team of people who want to use it to make work together, but equally powerful and potentially transformative for a group of individuals who choose to come together to hear and widen each other’s thinking entirely in terms of each person’s own personal agendas.

Action Learning and Collaboration

I have been thinking a lot recently about just what it is that makes Action Learning so enjoyed and successful and surprising and special, especially when it can be experienced by a group over a repeated series of get-togethers. These reflections have drawn out these five attributes:

  1. In-Betweenness 
  2. Listening In-ness
  3. Slowness
  4. Togetherness
  5. Connectedness

1 ~ In-Betweenness

This quality is not so much walking blindly through fog, as the more delightful experience of flying through clouds, up in the air and above it all, happy and trusting that we will get to where we want to get to without having to see ahead to our destination.

This is the ability to inhabit the grey areas between boundaries, to hold ambiguity and complexity with far less need to define it, fix it, bolt it down, categorise and name it.  It involves being simultaneously inside and outside the flow of thinking, both alert to what others are saying and what matters to them while at the same time aware of the live fresh dancing of our own thoughts colliding with what we are hearing.

This quality is especially enhanced when we can keep our not-knowingness wide open and transmitting, sensing out rather than seeing straight ahead, wondering out loud, teasing out our unformed ideas, uncertainties and barely yet understood intuitions.

2 ~ Listening In-ness

This quality is about hearing in real time (rather than anticipating ahead of what is being said and so hearing only what we expect).  It demands that we stay with the material as it unfolds in the here-and-now instead of projecting our own versions of reality on to things. This is the capability of tuning in with the deliberate intention to notice more and receive more fully.  It is HD hearing that picks up the finer inflexion, nuance, repetition and other poetic aspects of our thinking.

It requires us to lean in, bringing a particular kind of presence and concentration to stay with what is being said as it is being said, resisting our usual inclination to decide quickly on what is meant from the smallest fragment of information.

This needs our fullest energy, commitment, presence and attention. But, when the conditions of Clean Space are activated, it seems to happen with remarkable ease and reliability.

3 ~ Slowness

The listening we do in Action Learning recognises that…

…you can’t flick through sound;

…you can’t take a meaningful still of sound;

…you can’t glance at sound;

…you can’t sensibly hear sound backwards, or broken up, un-sequenced;

…you just have to start at its beginning and stay with it through to its end.

Mindfulness, a deliberate, disciplined, meditative practice of slowing down and tuning in, is becoming a mass practice across the globe, perhaps filling in and replacing our older religious rituals with something more secular and better suited to our times.  But, perhaps too, its popularity is building from a growing awareness that we need times of slowness, stillness and quietness that reconnects us into the rhythm of our breathing selves as a counterbalance to the incessantly turned on, turned up, turned out lives we are now living.

Stopping, and making a quieter stillness to listen and notice better are premium qualities in Action Learning. And much is yielded from the heightened waiting and trusting this gives us.

4 ~ Togetherness

Action Learning gives us a new way of co-creating – making something from the collective material that emerges from us all – and a better way of collaborating – making joint decisions and sharing out the work.

The material we uncover to work with is always richer and more multidimensional than any ordinary discussion could give us. This happens without force in a process akin to the sculptor’s art – drawing out and revealing and shaping and clarifying and heightening and unifying what is most fine and delightful and compelling from inside what we already have amongst us, waiting to be discovered.

5 ~ Connectedness

In Action Learning meanings, ideas and solutions emerge from making patterns. As humans we make sense of things by forging connections: that thing to the thing we already know (or think we know); this thing with that thing with the other thing to make the new thing.  Then the more we repeat, reinforce and practice anything the more strongly it becomes ingrained into our integral circuitry.  The repetition and cyclic iterations of uncovering and revealing and testing and rethinking we get in Action Learning deepens and strengthens our commitment to the ideas we most connect with.

Action Learning demands a kind of patient urgency – a different kind of dynamic that still has to move us forward with a sense of necessity and compulsion, but alongside a more careful, intimate and delicate holding on and out for what is still unfolding

Action Learning creates and sustains our propulsion from…

…the avoidance of rush and fixing too fast and hard alongside the necessity to make progress;

…the avoidance of jumping too quickly into action alongside the necessity for application and getting things done;

…the avoidance of the usual imperative to define desired outcomes and set the focus on the Vision alongside the necessity of getting somewhere worth arriving at.

Action Learning and Making Great Audience Experience

All of this I have come to know and trust from my many years sitting inside and outside dozens of different Action Learning groups since I first found it.

What is new for me is to start to wonder what might come from the explicit aspiration, or even the gentlest intention, to try to make the qualities we experience in Action Learning with our audience – whether they be our beneficiaries or our customers or our partners or our stakeholders or our public…

Audience: the people who come to give us their hearing.

What if… we could come together as a community of listeners?

And return to listen together again and again, each time able to listen better?

What might our better listening lead us on to do better?

What if…?

What next…?

What now…?

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3193 photo: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3193
photo: Mark Trezona

Do please feel welcome to contact us if you would like to know more about how to make Action Learning part of your work or learning.

This post was developed from the one I originally wrote for Shaking Out, the Shaky Isles Theatre Company blog

Happiness At Work edition #90

If you enjoyed this, you may also find more stories and techniques for becoming more productive, happy and creative in this week’s new Happiness At Work collection, our weekly collection of the best stories about leadership and learning, mindfulness and happiness at work, resilience and self-mastery.

Enjoy…

 

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Happiness At Work #70 ~ creativity and finding the happy space to play in

photo credit: orangeacid via photopin cc

photo credit: orangeacid via photopin cc

This week’s Happiness At Work #70 headline theme considers the power and importance of creativity and play to our happiness and success.

What does playing mean in a work context?

What new ideas can we get about how to ‘play to our strengths’?

What are the benefits – for ourselves, for our organisations, for the people we play with and the people we play to – of making more time to be creative, for fun, and for finding a space in the middle of the circle?

And, if we are convinced of the worth of any of this, how might we go about trying out and extending and mastering any of these practices?

To help answer these questions, here are some of our favourite articles from this week’s collection…

photo credit: Photosightfaces via photopin cc

photo credit: Photosightfaces via photopin cc

Happiness Means Creativity: One Company’s Bet On Positive Psychology

BY MEG CARTER

Rather than just fix what’s ailing you, positive psychology looks to actively improve individual and organizational well-being. Here’s how Havas Worldwide is working to build a happier, more resilient–and ultimately more creative–workforce.

Cultivating a more positive outlook is a better way of boosting creativity than indulging a tortured genius, according to consultant psychologist and professor Neil Frude who has begun working with ad organization Havas Worldwide London to provide “positive psychology” training to the agency’s staff.

It’s all about creating a virtuous circle.

“There is a strong relationship between employee happiness and a workforce that is productive, creative, and flourishing,” he says, pointing to lab studies designed to test creativity after participants have been made more and less happy, which shows creative levels improve when people are happier.

Furthermore, the positive effect of creative satisfaction produces, in turn, a further emotional uplift that feeds what’s known as “contagion of emotion,” which benefits a group of people as a whole–be that an organization or simply a collection of friends and acquaintances…

“‘Positive psychology’ is about playing to strengths–enhancing positive emotions, rather than the old approach of using psychology to fix problems,” Frude explains.

“How we are using it is to demonstrate skills that help boost an individual’s sense of well-being–for example, ways of building resilience, or becoming more positive, or better managing your emotions in a positive direction by understanding what boosts or rewards you can give yourself to generate a positive emotional uplift.”

Build happiness and well-being among staff and an organization will benefit from a more emotionally intelligent workforce: people who not only understand their own and other people’s emotions but can more effectively manage their own and other people’s emotions, too.

photo credit: markchadwickart via photopin cc

photo credit: markchadwickart via photopin cc

Which is what inspired Russ Lidstone, CEO of creative agency Havas Worldwide London–whose clients include Credit Suisse, Santander, and Durex–to bring in Frude and his company, The Happiness Consultancy, to help boost levels of happiness, well-being, and resilience in his agency’s 240-strong workforce…

“The notion that 40% of your brain can be trained to adapt is an interesting one. Another selling point for me is that a liberated mind in a more confident and secure individual is more likely to feel free to express itself in different, innovative, and ultimately more creative ways.”

What all this means in practice is that, between now and the end of the year, every member of the 240-member staff based at Havas Worldwide’s offices in London and Manchester will undertake a four-week course in positive psychology run by Frude…

“This isn’t about ‘fixing’ a specific problem but making the organization work even better,” Professor Frude insists.

“It’s about empowering individuals to get more out of their lives and enabling managers to recognize the potential positive (and negative) impact that can come from putting people with a particular outlook into a team. And it’s about providing those involved in communications with sharper tools to understand and engage through the positive messages they create.”..

“My hope is for a wave of little interventions across the agency over time that will lead, in turn, to both a healthier outlook and better output for us all–as a business and also at a personal level–by getting the best out of ourselves and each other.”

Or to put it another way, Frude adds: “Learning to manage your emotional well-being is like teaching a person to fish–a skill that will keep you going for a lifetime.”

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: VinothChandar via photopin cc

photo credit: VinothChandar via photopin cc

One of the essential elements of positive psychology is Engagement – what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has termed ‘flow‘ to describe the ecstatic state of being completely at-one with and absorbed in what we are doing. It is when we are stretched enough to feel challenged and stimulated but not so far beyond our confidence that we become over-stressed and anxious.

photo credit: anoldent via photopin cc

photo credit: anoldent via photopin cc

It is worth knowing that Csikszentmihalyi began to develop his model from the question: “Where in ordinary people’s lives are they really happy?” He went and talked to a great many creative people and noticed how very happy they were when they talked about their work, and how ready they were to continue what they were doing for years and years despite having little hope of ever achieving any fame or fortune. Despite any hardships and difficulties their work brought them, these artists and scientists reported a very high level of happiness in the sense of meaning and purpose their work gave to their lives, and often described working as a kind of ‘ecstasy’. Ecstasy in the original Greek meant ‘to stand to the side of something’, but it has come to mean a ‘mental stepping into an alternative and heightened realty.’

Here is how one of the artists Csikszentmihalyi interviewed talked about his experience composing music:

You are in an ecstatic state to such a point that you feel as though you almost don’t exist. I have experienced this time and time again. My hand seems devoid of myself, and I have nothing to do with what is happening. I just sit there watching it in a state of awe and wonderment. And [the music] just flows out of itself.”

Often, when in this state of complete flow, our emotions are in fact neutral and in it is only afterwards that we will remember back and feel we have just been having a wonderful time. This is because our concentration and consciousness merges with what we are doing, we have no self-consciousness, and we lose all sense of time.

Csikszentmihalyi goes on to explain that there are a range of different states we can find ourselves in, made up of the mix between our level of skill and the level of the challenge in what we trying to do:

  • too little skill mixed with too high a challenge and we feel anxious
  • too little challenge mixed with a surfeit of skill and we feel bored
  • high challenge matched with high skill and we have the possibility of feeling in flow

flow diagram

There are two states that are most easy to lean ourselves into flow from:

  • pushing ourselves over the edge of control and we can fall into flow. This is the optimum condition for leaning out beyond our comfort
  • and adding the ignition of discipline – a technique or structure or rule – can optimise our state of arousal into a flow state. This explains why absolute freedom – or only going with your instincts – are not sufficient to optimum engagement.

The Psychology of Flow

Applications and Examples of Flow

While flow experiences can happen as part of everyday life, there are also important practical applications in various areas including education, sports and the workplace.

Examples of Flow in Education: Csíkszentmihályi has suggested that overlearning a skill or concept can help people experience flow. Another critical concept in his theory is the idea of slightly extending oneself beyond one’s current ability level. This slight stretching of one’s current skills can help the individual experience flow.

Examples of Flow in Sports: Just like in educational settings, engaging in a challenging athletic activity that is doable but presents a slight stretching of one’s abilities is a good way to achieve flow. Sometimes described by being “in the zone,” reaching this state of flow allows an athlete to experience a loss of self-consciousness and a sense of complete mastery of the performance.

Examples of Flow in the Workplace: Flow can also occur when workers are engaged in tasks where they are able to focus entirely on the project at hand. For example, a writer might experience this while working on a novel or a graphic designer might achieve flow while working on a website illustration.

photo credit: Emily Raw via photopin cc

photo credit: Emily Raw via photopin cc

The Benefits of Flow

In addition to making activities more enjoyable, flow also has a number of other benefits.

Flow can lead to improved performance. Researchers have found that flow can enhance performance in a wide variety of areas including teaching, learning, athletics and artistic creativity.

Flow can also lead to further learning and skill development. Because the act of achieving flow indicates a strong mastery of a certain skill, the individual must continually seek new challenges and information in order to maintain this state.

photo credit: Thundershead via photopin cc

photo credit: Thundershead via photopin cc

My favourite illustration of flow is improvisation, whether they be jazz musicians or actors or dancers playing together. Improvisation is a set of disciplines and techniques that can be learned and mastered to deliberately deployed to generate and sustain a state of collaborative creative flow.

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

Paul Z Jackson is the man who taught me the first skills of improvisation, and he has just launched a new training facility: The Improvisation Academy. In his new blog he writes:

Habits or Choices – A New Perspective From Improvisation

We are all creatures of habit, and one of the great benefits of improvisation is how it can call habits into question. We can make choices when we notice ourselves up against the automatic, the habitual or the scripted.

An improvised moment is one when we are asked for a new response. We are either facing something we’ve not experienced before or we are doing something different in the same old circumstance.

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

Many of the best improvisation activities create just such moments of choice. For example, the members of the group stand facing each other in a circle. The aim is to take the place of another person by calling their name and walking into their place in the circle. You can take their place only after they have moved away, but they cannot move away until a space is opening up for them. So there is a chain of name calling, which creates a strong – some might say irresistible – impulse to move before you are meant to.

The game puts your attention into that moment of choice: to move or to resist the urge. And by enjoying the game – in which mistakes have absolutely minimal consequences – we can build our skills of paying attention, interrupting habitual responses and making a mindful decision of when to take a first step.

There are clear overlaps here in the philosophy and practice of improvisation with the Alexander Technique and Mindfulness. So is it time for you to build some good new habits?

Link to read the original article

photo credit: daystar297 via photopin cc

photo credit: daystar297 via photopin cc

Improvisation is a skilled form of play and brings with it all the potential for abundant joy and delight that we get from play for both its players and its audience.

Play is something that most of us seem to unlearn as we get older, but there is a growing case for why this might be to our disadvantage…

Don’t Be All Work and No Play – Liven Up Your Workplace

by ANDREA DEVERS

Humans are designed for play and I think its important to incorporate elements of fun into your daily routine. First and foremost I think it allows others to get to know YOU as a real person and second I think it actually helps to improve productivity. You’ll need to help to shape and define what is appropriate in your environment and culture for your employees, but also help to provide some outlets for release and rejuvenation for your teams and employees.

In the past, whenever I heard “have fun at work,” my mind immediately went to “team building activities” — which often involve some kind of trust fall (which I always hate doing and then when I try to opt out I feel like not a being a team player) or some kind of “party” off-site. But let’s face it, off sites and trust falls take time and money which means that its not always feasible to do all the time. Even if you’re fortunate enough to do such an event once a quarter, I think it still “falls” a little short.

Those larger off site events are still important — if you’re doing them, don’t stop. However, I’d suggest finding some other smaller events and activities to help stave off the dullness… and it doesn’t have to cost an arm or a leg. The key is to be regular and consistent.

First get a good understanding of your team and what kind of activities they enjoy and how they like to be recognized and engaged. Consider taking a quick survey of ideas from your team’s “favorite things.” Keep them on file when you need ideas or as reminders about what individuals prefer. Another cool idea — and way to engage your team — start a “fun jar” where your team can put in ideas of things that they’d like to do as a group. You’ll just need to provide a jar and a short template of requirements (i.e. budget, length of time for the activity) for their suggestions and then some guidance on how and when to pull an idea from the jar…

Link to read the original article and Andrea’s 10 suggestions for making fun at work

photo credit: pierofix via photopin cc

photo credit: pierofix via photopin cc

The Key To Happiness: A Taboo for Adults?

writes about the power of play for our creativity, engagement and happiness…

It’s a vision problem that no laser surgery can cure, a hyperopia that keeps us from seeing the central source of happiness right next to us. That problem is called adulthood. Those who are afflicted with this condition have trouble focusing on nearby objects of amusement and the realm that delivers the most enjoyment per square inch: play. Adults are oblivious to what they knew as kids — that play is where you live.

Grownups aren’t supposed to play. We have problems. We’re too busy. We have important things to do. It turns out, though, that there are few things more important to your happiness than frequent doses of play. As a study led by Princeton researcher Alan Krueger found, of all the things on the planet, we’re at our happiest when we’re involved in engaging leisure activities…

We live in a culture obsessed with wringing an external result from everything we do. Play doesn’t operate on that metric. It’s not about the end but the experience. This has made play one of the last remaining taboos, an irrational deviation from gainful obligation. What we don’t realize, though, is that it’s precisely the lack of a quantifiable result that allows play to tap a more meaningful place that satisfies core needs and reveals the authentic person behind the masks of job and society.

Anthropologist Gregory Bateson believed that the fixation on making everything productive and rational cuts us off from the world of the spontaneous that is home to real knowledge. Wisdom, Bateson believed, is to be found in the realms outside intentionality, in the inner reaches of art, expression and religion. “The whole culture is suffering from overconscious intentionality, overseriousness, overemphasis on productivity and work,” psychologist and cultural explorer Bradford Keeney told me. “We’ve forgotten that the whole picture requires a dance between leisure and work.”…

Studies show that play reflects more of who you are than your work. When you’re engaged in activities of “personal expressiveness,” ones that are self-chosen and that reflect intrinsic goals, you’re operating from the “true self,” says Alan Waterman of the College of New Jersey. This leads to optimal psychological functioning (i.e., happiness). We’re talking about something far from tangential to your existence. Play scholar John Neulinger called passionate play pursuits none other than the “central life interest.”

Play brings you back to life — your life. “Adults need to play because so much of our life is utilitarian, the University of South Alabama’s Catherine O’Keefe explained to me. “We need to reconnect with the things of our lives that ground us in who we really are and why we like our lives.”…

…the animating spark of play is the fast track to happiness. There is no quicker transport to the experiential realm and full engagement than through play, which brings together all the elements you want for the optimal moment.

  1. Play is 100-percent experience.
  2. It’s done for the intrinsic pleasure, for the participation.
  3. With no judgment or outcomes needed, play grounds you in the now.

Researchers say that the more absorbed we are in activities we like to do, the happier we are. Abraham Maslow and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi pinpointed the power of full involvement in the moment to produce optimal experiences. Maslow called optimal moments the time when we are most attuned, “more integrated and less split, more perfectly actualizing.” He argued that these instants of sublime activation had all the hallmarks of the religious or mystical but were triggered by intensely felt, secular experiences.

photo credit: Egui_ via photopin cc

photo credit: Egui_ via photopin cc

Contrary to stereotype, engaged play is the gateway not to time-wasting but to times that let you contact deeper realms. When you paint a canvas or play volleyball, you’re in a creative improvisation that calls on inner fortitude and commitment and that reflect your values through self-expression. Play satisfies core self-determination needs, such as autonomy and competence, as little else can, connecting you with your mandate to explore and challenge yourself. That’s the integration Maslow was talking about. You tap the true you, not the performance identity of the job or the presentation identity that we display to others. Play relieves you of the burden to be someone you’re not. There’s nothing on the line; it’s just play. Just you.

When it comes to beefing up your happiness, it’s hard to do better than engaged play. Not only does it align you with your deepest needs and deliver fun in the moment, but the social component of play is a huge predictor of increased daily well-being, the research shows. Participating in recreational activities has been connected to increased positive mood and experiencing pleasure. And play increases the odds that you’re going to have more fun in your life because it’s a huge stress buffer, reducing strain and burnout, boosting your immune system and pumping up vitality and energy.

When you’re stressed, the brain’s activated emotional hub, the amygdala, suppresses positive mood, fueling a self-perpetuating cycle of negativity. Play can break you out of that straitjacket. It also cut through stagnation at the office. Studies show that playfulness can increase performance on the job and stoke creativity by breaking up the mental set that keeps us stuck. It resets the brain.

This tonic we write off as trivial is a crucial engine of well-being. In its low-key, humble way, play yanks grownups out of their purposeful sleepwalk to reveal the animating spirit within. You are alive, and play will prove it to you.

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

This passion and belief in the power of play is shared by Stuart Brown in this TEDTalk:

Stuart Brown: Play Is More Than Fun

“The opposite of play is not work. It’s depression…” Stuart Brown

photo credit: Felipe Morin via photopin cc

photo credit: Felipe Morin via photopin cc

I have been trying out the method surgeons use for washing their hands after seeing this – and the amount of germs we carry on our hands when we haven’t washed them thoroughly – on Dr Michael Mosley’s BBC Four programme: Pain, Pus and Poison: The Search for Modern Medicine. Apparently surgeons are taught to sing “Happy Birthday’ through twice to time a complete hand wash.

The surprising and quite unexpected result has been to find every time, in the very pleasurable relaxation of sinking in to the duration of the song twice through, is that all sorts of of creative ideas have fallen into my head at the same time.

And here is some of the science behind why this might be…

photo credit: Arlington County via photopin cc

photo credit: Arlington County via photopin cc

6 Purely Psychological Effects of Washing Your Hands

Wash your hands, wash your mind: recover optimism, feel less guilty, less doubtful and more…

Washing your hands doesn’t just keep you healthier; it has all sorts of subtle psychological effects as well.

Hand washing sends an unconscious metaphorical message to the mind: we don’t just cleanse ourselves of physical residues, we also cleanse ourselves of mental residues.

Here are six purely psychological effects of washing your hands…

1. Recover optimism

In a study by Kaspar (2012) participants who failed at a task, then washed their hands, felt more optimistic afterwards than those who didn’t.

Unfortunately washing their hands also seemed to reduce their motivation for trying the task again.

Still, hand washing can help boost optimism after a failure.

2. Feel less guilty

One study had participants think about some immoral behaviour from their past (Zhong & Liljenquist, 2006). One group were then told to use an antiseptic wipe, and another not.

Those who washed their hands after thinking about an immoral behaviour felt less guilty. The antiseptic wipe had literally wiped away their guilt.

3. Take the moral high ground

When people in one study washed their hands, they were more disgusted by the bad behaviour of others (Zhong, Strejcek & Sivanathan, 2010):

“…”clean” participants made harsher moral judgments on a wide range of issues, from abortion to drug use and masturbation. They also rated their own moral character more favorably in comparison with that of their fellow students.” (Lee & Schwarz, 2011)

So, when people feel clean themselves, they take the moral high ground and are harsher on the transgressive behaviour of others.

4. Remove doubt

Sometimes, after people make the wrong decision, they try to justify it by pretending it was the right decision.

It’s a result of cognitive dissonance, and it’s one way in which people lie to themselves.

However, hand washing may wipe away the need for self-justification in some circumstances, leaving you better able to evaluate your decision the way it really is (Lee & Schwarz, 2010).

5. Wash away bad luck

When participants in one study had some experimentally induced ‘bad luck’ while gambling, washing their hands seemed to mentally wash away their bad luck (Xu et al., 2012).

In comparison to those who didn’t wash their hands, hand washers carried on betting as if their bad luck was forgotten.

6. Guilt other people into washing their hands

A public health study flashed different messages onto the walls of public toilets as people entered, including “Water doesn’t kill germs, soap does,” and “Don’t be a dirty soap dodger.” (Judah et al., 2009)

The most effective overall message, though, was: “Is the person next to you washing with soap?”

So it seems when you wash your hands in a public toilet, you help guilt other people into washing theirs as well.

A clean slate

All these studies are demonstrating that when we wash our hands, we also wash our minds clean:

“…the notion of washing away one’s sins, entailed in the moral-purity metaphor, seems to have generalized to a broader conceptualization of wiping the slate clean, allowing people to metaphorically remove a potentially broad range of psychological residues.” (Lee & Schwarz, 2011)

Link to read the original article in full

5 Tips to Tap Into Your Creative Self

Psychiatrist Carrie and orthopaedic surgeon Alton Baron, authors of The Creativity Cure, believe passionately in the power of using our hands to unleash our creativity and allow our happiness to flow.

In THE CREATIVITY CURE: A Do-It-Yourself Prescription for Happiness, husband-and-wife physicians Carrie and Alton Barron draw upon the latest psychological research, a combined forty years of medical practice, and personal experience to reveal that creative action is integral to easing depression and anxiety and to fueling long-term happiness and wellbeing. The need to create – to produce something using our minds and hands – is fundamental. It connects us to our inner selves and to our environment and offers the deep satisfaction of accomplishment. But too often, in our technology driven, fast-paced society, we neglect this need. The Barrons show that creative processes facilitate insight and healing, connect our mental and physical selves, supply satisfaction and meaning and thereby yield life changing results.

The five steps of THE CREATIVITY CURE—Insight, Movement, Mind Rest, Using Your Own Two Hands, and Mind Shift—lead the way to a more meaningful, fulfilling life by simultaneously developing self-understanding and self-expression. With the Barrons’ detailed tools and strategies for cultivating creative outlets, overcoming unconscious fears and barriers to happiness, and linking internal thought to external action, readers will build the mindset and habits for happiness and positive change…

photo credit: J. Star via photopin cc

photo credit: J. Star via photopin cc

David B. Goldstein on creativity and playing to your personality strengths

We discovered David B. Goldstein this week and his ideas correlating the intelligence we can get from knowing our Myers-Briggs Personality Type and understanding the nature of our own individual creativity. This provides more detail about creativity we all have within us, and and the many different ways of being creative.

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photo credit: sgs_1019 via photopin cc

Everything You Thought You Knew About Creativity Is Wrong

We tend to think that creativity is innate — you’ve either got it or you don’t. Our “creative type” friends are artsy, full of wonder and always wanting to dig into something deeper. The rest? They’re investment bankers.

Contrary to popular belief, no one is born without a creative bone in his or her body, and not all creative types are starving artists. In other words, we’ve all got it, but our personalities play a role in the kind of creative we are, and how we best feed into it.

“Our creative process is how we see the world and how we make decisions,” David B. Goldstein, artist, researcher, management consultant and the co-author of “Creative You: Using Your Personality Type to Thrive” told The Huffington Post.

While we might typify creativity, Goldstein says this is limiting. “There’s more than one way to be creative — everyone is creative and can be creative in their own way.”

In his book, Goldstein reveals 16 different paths in which people can unearth their creativity, all of which depend on their psychological preferences. The author connects the personalities dictated by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment, a test developed on the basis that we all have particular preferences in the way we translate our life experiences and values…

Goldstein also challenges Some of the myths we might hold about creativity:

Stepping “outside of your comfort zone” is the best way to elicit creativity.
“Creativity comes from finding our comfort zone and standing in it,” Goldstein says. “When we’re comfortable and acting in our preferences, we have the courage to take risks.” The artist explains that when you’re not comfortable, you’re less likely to take the risks that could lead to that bright idea.

Plus, some of our best ideas come in the most unexpected places – like in the car driving home — where we feel mighty comfortable. These physical locations aren’t new to us, but they give our minds the “OK” to wander…

Brainstorming sessions are the best ways to come up with brilliant ideas.
Some, namely extroverts, feel most alive when surrounded by a group of people. But this is not the case for all – especially the introverted types who experience a sense of draining when they’re around others for too long, Goldstein explains. The trick is to find what setting works best for you…

Being creative means being spontaneous.
Some of the most inspiring, creative works came with a set of plans. Painter Henri Matisse, for example, constructed all of his paintings before he began. He even wore a suit and tie while he created – not exactly the splattered, ragged overalls we associate with artsy folk…

Creative people must invent something new.
Only 30 percent of the population have the personality of the “intuitive types.” These are the Einsteins and the Edisons – big picture thinkers who create something out of nothing. (The lightbulb, for example, did not exist until Edison decided it should.) Goldstein says these kinds of thinkers are abstract and impractical – they contemplate the future and solve “future problems.”

And yet, the “sensers” – the majority of us – aren’t any less creative, just a different kind. Sensers create by combining existing ideas. Think of Henry Ford, who didn’t invent the car, but thought up many ways to improve it.

Of course, a person isn’t necessarily strictly a senser or an intuitive: “There’s an overlap,” Goldstein explains. “The intuitives can pay attention to detail and do think in the moments, and sensers can look into the future and see the bigger picture.”

Creativity means having a finished product.
You don’t need to create something worthy of display to be considered creative. Those with a “perceiver” personality type tend to never see things as entirely complete, because they’re always inspired to add more. “If you’re a perceiver, you prefer endlessly modifying, editing, repainting and revisiting since there is an unlimited and continuous flow of data to consider,” Goldstein writes in his book…

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: Sam Ilić via photopin cc

photo credit: Sam Ilić via photopin cc

Increase creativity at work and still have work life balance

Cindy Krischer Goodman writes:

Do you wish you were more creative? Creative people get ahead in business. They’re always coming up with a new way of doing things. For some of us, creativity flows easily. For others, we have those days where we struggle with it and it zaps our time and energy. Guest blogger David Goldstein is co-author of Creative You: Using Your Personality Type to Thrive. which addresses how personality types influence our creative abilities and how we can get better at it. David is an artist, entrepreneur, and researcher with a science and business background. He also writes a popular blog Courageously Creative.

…today, creativity isn’t just for people doing art or advertising – it’s for all of us and it’s about inventing better ways to do our jobs. Whether we realize it or not, we’re all naturally creative and by acting more creatively at work, we can be more engaged and happier.

One simple way to do this is to know your creative style — and this can help you get unstuck when you get blocked. While there are so many different ways to be creative, there are just as many ways to feel blocked in expressing ourselves…

The first way to overcome a block is to relax and not let it get the better of you and realize that we can’t always be inspired. Next, knowing your personality type is like having jumper cables to give you the spark to get going again.

Knowing your personality type can help you find your own balance. It can also help you to unlock your creativity and lead to happiness at work — it’s just a matter of balancing the right amount of information we take in with the decisions we make.

Link to read the original article in full

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photo credit: © Salim Photography/ www.salimphoto.com via photopin cc

22 Tips To Better Care for Introverts and Extroverts

by Belle Beth Cooper

‘[We] should not strive to eliminate [our] complexes but to get into accord with them: they are legitimately what directs [our] conduct in the world.’ -Sigmund Freud

…If we go a bit further back, we find that the terms introvert and extrovert (originally spelled extravert) were popularized by Carl Jung in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, their meanings got confused between then and now, and we started thinking that everyone belongs to one camp or the other. But actually, Carl’s point was that these are the very extremes of a scale. Which means that most of us fall somewhere in the middle.

There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum. – Carl G Jung

…introversion and extroversion actually relate to where we get our energy from.

Or in other words, how we recharge our brains.

Introverts (or those of us with introverted tendencies) tend to recharge by spending time alone. They lose energy from being around people for long periods of time, particularly large crowds.

Extroverts, on the other hand, gain energy from other people. Extroverts actually find their energy is sapped when they spend too much time alone. They recharge by being social.

Research has actually found that there is a difference in the brains of extroverted and introverted people in terms of how we process rewards and how our genetic makeup differs. For extroverts, their brains respond more strongly when a gamble pays off. Part of this is simply genetic, but it’s partly the difference of their dopamine systems as well…

The nucleus accumbens is part of the dopamine system, which affects how we learn, and is generally known for motivating us to search for rewards. The difference in the dopamine system in the extrovert’s brain tends to push them towards seeking out novelty, taking risks and enjoying unfamiliar or surprising situations more than others. The amygdala is responsible for processing emotional stimuli, which gives extroverts that rush of excitement when they try something highly stimulating which might overwhelm an introvert.

More research has actually shown that the difference comes from how introverts and extrovertsprocess stimuli. That is, the stimulation coming into our brains is processed differently depending on your personality. For extroverts, the pathway is much shorter. It runs through an area where taste, touch, visual and auditory sensory processing takes place. For introverts, stimuli runs through a long, complicated pathway in areas of the brain associated with remembering, planning and solving problems…

For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating.

Introverted people are known for thinking things through before they speak, enjoying small, close groups of friends and one-on-one time, needing time alone to recharge and being upset by unexpected changes or last-minute surprises. Introverts are not necessarily shy, and may not even avoid social situations, but they will definitely need some time alone or just with close friends or family after spending time in a big crowd.

12 quick tips to better care for an introvert (graphic)

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photo credit: dogrando via photopin cc

On the opposite side of the coin, extroverts are energized by people. They usually enjoy spending time with others, as this is how they recharge from time spent alone focusing or working hard.

10 quick tips to better care for an extrovert (graphic)

Ambiverts exhibit both extroverted and introverted tendencies. This means that they generally enjoy being around people, but after a long time this will start to drain them. Similarly, they enjoy solitude and quiet, but not for too long. Ambiverts recharge their energy levels with a mixture of social interaction and alone time.

Though ambiverts seem to be the more boring personality type, being in the middle of everyone else, this balance can actually be a good thing.A study by Adam Grant, author of *Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success found that ambiverts perform better in sales than either introverts or extroverts. Ambiverts actually closed 24% more sales…

Most of us will be one or the other, but writing with your right hand doesn’t render your left hand inert. Similarly, an extroverted person can still do things that aren’t typically associated with extroversion. Meanwhile, introverts can learn to adapt to more extroverted scenarios, even if it might not come as naturally.

“The absolute worst thing you can do with either type is use a single word to define your approach.” Understanding the tendencies of ourselves and others is just the beginning. Effective communication means we need to take into account each person’s personality as well…

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: jurvetson via photopin cc

Finding the X Factor – the neuroscience of presence

Jan Hills writes

You will have experienced the feeling of a person, maybe a leader, shop assistant or friend who is completely focused on you and your needs. Their level of connection is palatable. For me it is best summed up in the words of a West African greeting, ‘Sawa bona,’ which translates to ‘I see you.’

The traditional response is ‘I am here’.

This exchange denotes that until you are ‘seen’ you do not exist and when you are seen you are brought into existence. This is the skill of deeply connecting to another and giving them attention. Many believe this speaks to a basic human need to be seen or validated. For many of us it is the X factor in business; people who can be present also connect deeply with others. It is an invaluable skill whether you are an HR leader, business partner or in shared services.

Everyone is capable of this level of connection. When we achieve it we understand more of what is going on in the business, are more influential, and increase engagement and ultimately productivity within the team.

Presence is a feeling state and one of the characteristics is that the experience feels spontaneous. There is no power play, posturing or self-consciousness and past experience is not interfering with the interaction. There is also an element of energy.

Energy

Research by the Institute of HeartMath shows that the heart, like the brain, generates an electromagnetic field. Director of Research Rollin McCraty says that: “The electrical field as measured in an electrocardiogram is about 60 times greater in amplitude than the brainwaves recorded in an electroencephalogram.” One of their significant findings is if people intentionally generate positive emotions by changing their state the electromagnetic heart information also changes.

According to the US National Institutes of Health in the USA the study of bioenergy is receiving increasing scientific attention. This research looks at the effect of electromagnetic heart fields that result in levels of heart-rate synchronization. It has been established that mothers synchronize with their baby’s heart rate.

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

What stops presence

The ability to connect therefore should be a learnable skill. But what gets in the way of achieving presence? In our discussions with clients we find these are the main issues:

  • Distractions: This covers a fairly broad area including people checking their mobile phones.

  • Internal dialogue: There is a lot of noise in most peoples’ heads. This ranges from self-conscious worry to planning what to say next, through to wondering what the other person thinks of us.

  • Threat response: Being emotionally comfortable is important to staying present. You may start being engaged with the person but lose it when you feel “threatened.” The CORE model helps here both to manage and to diagnose triggers.

  • Judgment: This often separates us from others. It blocks our ability to listen, closes down curiosity and reduces empathy. We judge all the time. The issue is hanging onto judgements; letting them interrupt the connection and break the presence.

  • Habit: It’s my theory that we can get into the habit of not fully connecting, and only through practice will this habit be overcome.

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

The research

Psychology has for many years emphasised the importance of not just the words but also the body language and tone of voice that goes with communication. People watch and make judgements on what is real, what is important and what is for show. This is intuitive but research from Sandy Pentland at MIT is able to verify and even put numbers on these factors. He has found that we act on and are influenced by the ‘honest signals’ people send. That is, the unconscious and non-verbal language including tone and energy. His team have developed a means of measuring these signals using an electronic badge.

Pentland says honest signals impact the success of individuals and teams and can account for as much as 50% of the performance of a group. …He found that a particular type of person is most effective in teams. He calls these people ‘charismatic connectors’ and they have many of the characteristics we associate with presence. They talk to everybody and drive the conversation around a team. They mainly work to connect people and information. The other interesting discovery Pentland made is that people can be trained to modify their honest signals to put in more energy or to communicate more effectively with their non-verbal signals. Making these changes improves the productivity and success of the team potentially by as much as an extra 8% in productivity improvements in call centre teams. You can see Pentland talking about his work here

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

Presence requires practice

I believe these are the elements that create the ability to be present.

  • Personal Awareness: Being aware of ‘What do I do, how do I do it and why do I do it?’ You can’t be present to others if you are not self-aware. Because presence depends on your emotional state at any given time, increasing your ability to change your emotional state is also critical. Mindfulness can help here and practice noticing your state and naming it.
  • You speak through your body and as Pentland found people pick up on this and respond both consciously and unconsciously. Everyone needs the Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you are saying,” somewhere close to hand. Like in our exercise, going into an interaction in the right state with the right degree of energy and relaxation in the body helps to achieve presence.
  • Emotional control: Read my HRZone article on emotional control and success for more about this. Presence requires a willingness to be honest with yourself about what is going on in the moment. The most skilled are able to step outside the immediate interaction and sense that is working and what is not and make minute adjustments. Being curious is a great aid. It is nearly impossible to disconnect, judge or listen to your own internal dialogue if you are deeply curious about the other person. This is especially hard but crucial in conflict, which is when you need it most.

Further evidence that adopting the right attitude and body language works comes from research by Amy Cuddy. When people adopt new postures such as appearing more powerful or more interested in others, the brain also starts to change and the adopted approach can be integrated into everyday behaviour. This is useful evidence for any development programme suggesting that we can help people to change their style and their presence, not just what they do. You can watch her excellent video on her research here which investigates how people perceive and categorize others. Warmth and competence, she finds, are the two critical variables. They account for about 80% of our overall evaluations of people (i.e., Do you feel good or bad about this person?), and shape our emotions and behaviors toward them. Her warmth/competence analysis illuminates why we hire Kurt instead of Kyra, how students choose study partners, who gets targeted for sexual harassment etc.

My message is, presence takes practice and intention. Monitor your own impact; when you are present with someone versus when you are distracted. Note the difference in results on your influence and understanding. This will motivate you to identify the triggers, adapt and practice ‘seeing’ the other person..

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: { pranav } via photopin cc

Patsy Rodenberg – The Second Circle

One of our great voice expert heroes is Patsy Rodenberg, author of several great books including Presence: How To Use Positive Energy For Success In Every Situation. Presence for her lies in the middle of three circles:

  1. In First Circle we are closed in on ourselves and failing to communicate out beyond our spheres. This is the withheld personna.

  2. In Second Circle we are in a dynamic state of balance between enough sureness about ourselves and what we have to bring and a concentrated alert attention and responsive to the people around us, constantly and minutely adapting to connect with what we receive. This is presence.

  3. In Third Circle we are pushing ourselves out into the world with such a force that have not attention or energy left over to receive anything back from from it. This is the overly presented personna.

A Working LIfe: The Voice Coach

writes in The Guardian

From actors to execs, Patsy Rodenburg’s mantra of psychology and Shakespeare helps them to master the power of speech

…After the lesson, she leads me to a tiny office. As she sits in a white rocking chair, it becomes clear that for her, training the voice is a complex business, involving not just breathing exercises, but a fair amount of psychology and lashings of Shakespeare.

“The voice encompasses so many things,” she says. “Everyone comes on to the planet with a fantastic voice, but people lose it. The voice is about communicating, engaging, how you show yourself, how you speak, how you listen.”

photo credit: MrAnathema via photopin cc

photo credit: MrAnathema via photopin cc

She gives a quick overview of her concept of “the three circles of energy”. The first is where a person withdraws into the self. The opposite is the third circle, the loud and boorish. The second circle is the ideal state, where a person’s energy is focused.

“It moves out towards the object of your attention, touches it then receives energy back from it,” she explains in her book, Presence. “You are living a two-way street – you reach out and touch an energy outside your own, then receive energy back.” …

She emphasises the importance of breathing from the lower abdomen, saying that a person’s voice should come from that part of the body: “The body houses the voice and the breath energises it.” …

Link to read the original article in full

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photo credit: josef.stuefer via photopin cc

Are audiences killing art and culture?

If the most important thing about art is its newsworthiness, says Sarah Kent, how do we engage with it on any other level?

…This is one of the questions to be addressed in BBC Radio 3‘s Free Thinking festival at the Sage Gateshead on Sunday in a panel debate: Are audiences killing culture?

Art is often promoted as a leisure pursuit, something fun to see on a wet Sunday afternoon. And it is achingly fashionable. On the first Thursday of each month, galleries in east London stay open late – hundreds descend on Vyner Street in Bethnal Green, sparking a street party complete with food, beer and sound systems; the event is so cool that even school kids hang out there…

Nowadays, artists are caught between a rock and a hard place. Market domination stifles creativity by seducing artists into producing glitzy commodities that shriek: “Buy me! Buy me!”…

Since an important part of their remit is to attract large audiences, museums and galleries unwittingly create a trap of a different kind – encouraging artists to woo the public with accessible art. Often the result is bland mediocrity; mirrored maizes are my bête noire. Occasionally, though, an artist responds with something both playful and profound.

When Olafur Eliasson projected a yellow disc onto the far wall of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2003, hundreds came to bask in the light of the artificial sun. The Weather Project tapped into the collective psyche by encouraging people to dream, which is what good art can do – visitors wore swimsuits, brought picnics and lay on towels as if they were on a beach in midsummer. The work demonstrated the power of illusion and people’s willingness to play.

If you visit Derry-Londonderry over the next few months you can earn a couple of quid discussing the market economy with some locals. Not down the pub, but at the Turner Prize exhibition where Tino Sehgal is staging This is Exchange…

If Seghal wins the Turner Prize it won’t be because his performers argued well or told moving tales, but because he provokes questions about the nature and value of art and the institutions that house it. Audience participation may be crucial, but pleasing the crowd is not; you may enjoy it, but his work is not about having a good time.

Antony Gormley‘s invitation in 2010 for people to take their place on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square was similarly memorable not because someone struck a fine pose or told a good joke; it was not Britian’s Got Talent. Fundamentally it was a conceptual piece that held up a mirror to our lust for celebrity, our desire to be in the frame. And it highlighted the fact that no-one has the faintest idea any more what public monuments and public art are for. What or who is worth commemorating?

Link to read the original article in full

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photo credit: Pensiero via photopin cc

New thinking and ideas about the relationship and potential collaboration between artists and their audiences is part of this interview, too:

Arts Head: Henry Little, Chief Executive, Orchestras Live

Interview by

…it’s interesting to think for a moment about what we consider a “concert” to be. The notion of a concert is quite a formal construct that makes people (and not just young people) immediately think that it might not be for them. Orchestras talk about “concerts” because that’s what they mostly do.

We talk about activity and events and sometimes they take the form of a traditional concert, but more often than not, they don’t. For example, we are working with young people in Cumbria on an event that could well see an orchestra performing in the local cattle market!

Our starting point is always the audience. We see programming as a two-way process involving both promoters and orchestras. We work with a wide range of British symphony and chamber orchestras, from early music ensembles to contemporary music groups, and we gather a complete picture of their plans to discover programmes that suit our partners’ needs. This can cover the full spectrum, from a traditional concert setting right through to a community performance involving hundreds of participants….

There’s a perception that teenagers and orchestral music don’t mix or that when they do, it’s a bit like oil and water. Many in our business lament the fact that audiences for classical music are getting older and that young people appear not to be interested in attending concerts. However, the fact is that they are and they do, so long as you involve them by allowing them to choose what music is played, how it is presented and when and where it takes place.

We also recognise the research that tells us that exposure to music from an early age is key to lifelong engagement and for us, enabling very young children to experience live orchestral music remains a priority. For me, it comes down to the question of with, rather than by and for. I think there’s too much of the latter when it comes to British orchestras’ approach to work with young people…

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: Denis Collette...!!! via photopin cc

photo credit: Denis Collette…!!! via photopin cc

How To Slow A Racing Mind

An agitated mind leads to stress and a whole host of health problems, such as high blood pressure and heart disease. It even disrupts our relationships and sleep.

Fortunately, there’s a simple solution to this problem. No matter how fast your mind is racing, you can learn how to cultivate a calm and serene mind, and the good news is that it’s a lot easier than you might think…

There are four main sources of mental agitation: 1) Too many commitments, 2) background noise, 3) painful memories, and 4) worrying. There are short-term solutions for dealing with too many commitments and background noise. Painful memories and worrying will take more time to overcome, but they will resolve themselves through a regular meditation practice.

1. Too many commitments

…With many of our commitments, we have no choice in the short-run. We can’t quit our jobs or abandon our families, but we can consider more carefully what we truly need to survive and be happy. For example, do all our material possessions really make our family happier, or do they take us away from our loved ones? With mindfulness, we can determine the real sources of happiness and strive to incorporate them into our lives.

2. Background Noise

…There’s nothing inherently wrong with watching TV or listening to the radio. The problem arises when we simply use them as background noise. Of course, we should also use some discretion concerning what we watch or listen to. Remember, whichever seeds in your mind you water, those will be the ones that grow.

I would suggest turning off the radio or television (or any other entertainment device) when you’re doing something else. This will help you concentrate on what you’re doing. Try it for a week. I think you’ll be surprised at how much of a difference it makes…

3. The Calming Power of Mindful Breathing

Mindful breathing is a simple tool for keeping your mind from racing out of control. Practicing mindful breathing is very easy and doesn’t take long, and it will interrupt the acceleration of your mind. This will enable you to think with greater clarity, since you’ll have less mental agitation.

All you have to do is stop occasionally and take three to five mindful breaths. You don’t have to strain to concentrate on your breathing, but rather just pay attention to it…

4. Mindful Walking

Practicing mindful walking is also very easy. Most of us do a great deal of walking through our daily activities: at home, work, school, or when tending to our family’s needs. These are all wonderful opportunities to practice mindfulness, instead of allowing ourselves to get lost in our thoughts, many of which are either worrying or simply rehashing the same thoughts repeatedly.

When doing mindful walking, we generally walk more slowly than usual. Make your walking a smooth and continuous movement, while being mindful of each step. This can have a tremendous calming effect because it forces your mind to slow down.

As with mindful breathing, simply pay attention to your walking. With each mindful step, observe the sensation on your feet, the contraction of the muscles in your legs, or even the sensations of your clothes against your skin. Not only will this calm your mind, but it will also help you return to the present moment…

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: katiecooperx via photopin cc

photo credit: katiecooperx via photopin cc

A Classroom In The Now

IN THE EARLY 1990s, scientist, writer, and world-renowned mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinnencountered Cherry Hamrick, a teacher in the small town of South Jordan, Utah, who wanted to bring mindfulness—the act of paying attention on purpose in the present moment—into her elementary school….

Cherry Hamrick taught mindfulness through techniques such as ringing a bell and having the students slowly raise their hands when they could no longer hear the sound of it; having them carefully eat a small portion of a candy bar and notice the way sugar sparked their taste buds; and setting aside time for “mindful walking,” in which they strolled around the school yard in silence and simply noticed each step. Gaining self-awareness through these types of exercises, Kabat-Zinn pointed out, is crucial to managing stress and finding success both inside and outside the classroom in a world where children are constantly bombarded with technological stimuli such as texts, e-mail, and Facebook.

“Self-distraction is at absolutely epidemic proportions—and it’s not the iPhone, it’s the thought of, ‘I wonder if anybody texted me,’” he said. “There’s always this digital domain—this virtual reality—and kids are even more challenged [to pay attention] than we were when we were young.”

The founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulnessin Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Kabat-Zinn has been a strong supporter of groups like Mindful Schools that use mindfulness to teach children how to focus, manage their emotions, handle their stress, and resolve conflicts. Instead of simply telling children to pay attention, for example, Kabat-Zinn said that adults should show children how to pay attention through direct experience, because that allows them to make wiser decisions in the heat of the moment, rather than only in retrospect. “Mindfulness is like a muscle, and without exercise it will lose its strength,” he said. “Our world is so much about doing that the being gets lost.”

With stress in children in the United States at high levels, incorporating mindfulness into school curriculums is imperative, he asserted, adding that students can tap into “their profound capacity” for awareness if they are taught to do so.

Although Kabat-Zinn pointed out that mindfulness is becoming more mainstream—displaying a chart that showed the number of publications and studies on the subject rising drastically in the last 10 years—he said he hopes it will gain even more steam and become a part of every school curriculum. “Many kids come to school and they haven’t had breakfast, or they’ve seen acts of violence, and [yet] they are expected to learn optimally,” he said. “If you are going to be in an environment like a classroom, why not help [students] actually get into an alignment, calmness, clarity, and emotional regulation where they can be open to what is available for them? Then you create a community of learning.”

Link to read the original article

Happiness At Work Edition #70

You will find all of these stories – and more – in this week’s new Happiness At Work collection…

I hope you find things to enjoy and use to carve out at least a little more space in the middle – to play, to think, to connect, to create, to be happy…

Happiness At Work #63 ~ the fine art of living happily in 2013

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin cc

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin cc

In the week that the new World Happiness Report 2013 is published, we are highlighting stories from our latest Happiness At Work Edition #63 that clue us in to some of the art and artfulness that can help us to live and work more happily in our 2013 settings.

WORLD HAPPINESS REPORT 2013

REPORT CALLS ON POLICY MAKERS TO MAKE HAPPINESS A KEY MEASURE AND TARGET OF DEVELOPMENT

Report ranks the happiest countries, with Northern Europe in the lead

…“There is now a rising worldwide demand that policy be more closely aligned with what really matters to people as they themselves characterize their well-being,” said Professor Jeffery Sachs. “More and more world leaders are talking about the importance of well-being as a guide for their nations and the world. The World Happiness Report 2013 offers rich evidence that the systematic measurement and analysis of happiness can teach us a lot about ways to improve the world’s well-being and sustainable development.”

The Report shows significant changes in happiness in countries over time, with some countries rising and others falling over the past five years. There is some evidence of global convergence of happiness levels, with happiness gains more common in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, and losses more common among the industrial countries. For the 130 countries with data available, happiness (as measured by people’s own evaluations of their lives) significantly improved in 60 countries and worsened in 41 (Figure 2.5).

For policy makers, the key issue is what affects happiness. Some studies show mental health to be the single most important determinant of whether a person is happy or not. Yet, even in rich countries, less than a third of mentally ill people are in treatment. Good, cost-effective treatments exist for depression, anxiety disorders and psychosis, and the happiness of the world would be greatly increased if they were more widely available.

The Report also shows the major beneficial side-effects of happiness. Happy people live longer, are more productive, earn more, and are also better citizens. Well-being should be developed both for its own sake and for its side-effects.

Governments are increasingly measuring well-being with the goal of making well-being an objective of policy. One chapter of the Report, written by Lord Gus O’Donnell, former UK Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service, shows just how this can be done. It shows how different are the policy conclusions when health, transport and education are viewed in this light…

photo credit: greekadman via photopin cc

photo credit: greekadman via photopin cc

Improving Wellbeing Should Be Our Global Priority

Action For Happiness directorDr Mark Williamson makes a compelling case for concentrating more of our energies, resources and resourcefulness on increasing wellbeing across our planet:

People’s daily experiences and concerns differ enormously around the world. While a farmer in Angola prays for a good harvest, a manager in Greece worries about losing her job. And while a mother in Egypt comes to terms with life in a conflict zone, a doctor in Denmark struggles with work-related stress.

But there is one thing that unites people’s experiences in every country: they all involve human beings who want their experience of life to be good rather than bad. We share a universal desire for wellbeing. This is more than just a survival instinct; we want to be happy and have the best possible lives for ourselves and those we love.

Whether we’re aiming to alleviate poverty in Africa, end conflict in Syria or reduce stress in US workplaces, the fundamental reason we care about these things is that they are bad for human wellbeing. They cause suffering and pain. Similarly, if we’re aiming to boost economic activity, reform our education system or cut public sector spending, we should only do so if we believe this will ultimately be good for people’s wellbeing. Wellbeing provides a common lens through which we can look at the many challenges and opportunities in our world and decide on our collective priorities.

This is the central idea behind a groundbreaking report published today – the World Happiness Report. Launched in the midst of a major debate about what the world’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) should be for 2015-2030, the report argues that people’s ‘subjective wellbeing’ – their self-reported sense of happiness with life – should be a central measure of progress for every nation. It is a substantial piece of work edited by, among others, the influential development economist Jeff Sachs.

Recent years have seen a huge growth in wellbeing research and we now have valuable data from all around the world about people’s levels of life satisfaction. Not only can wellbeing be measured in a reliable and meaningful way, the findings have great relevance for public policy and global priorities. What was once seen as a sideshow is now a mainstream movement, with support from influential figures such as UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon and former head of the UK civil service, Lord Gus O’Donnell.

To illustrate how relevant the wellbeing data is for global issues, let’s return to those four examples in my introduction, as they all relate to countries with interesting findings. Firstly, the farmer in Angola. Although Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the lowest wellbeing (it is home to 9 of the bottom 10 countries, the other being Syria), there are a few green shoots. Over the last five years, Angola has actually seen the largest improvement in wellbeing globally, as it continues to regain stability after its terrible 27 year civil war.

However, for the manager in Greece and mother in Egypt, the trends are less encouraging. Unsurprisingly, these are the two countries that have seen the largest falls in wellbeing over the last five years. Of all the countries affected by the Eurozone crisis, Greece has been the hardest hit. Its drop in wellbeing is greater than would be predicted simply from falls in income, reflecting wider problems from loss of trust and social cohesion. And in Egypt, the significantly lower wellbeing surely reflects the Egyptian people’s suffering under the Mubarak regime and the ongoing struggles since the 2011 uprising.

Finally, what about the Danish doctor? Well, she’s at least fortunate to live in Denmark, the country which once again tops the world wellbeing league, closely followed by Norway. With Sweden also in the top 5, we might well ask how these Northern European nations always seem to deliver world-beating levels of wellbeing. Yes they have fairly high GDP per capita, but they’re far from the top of that league. More tellingly, they have some of the highest levels of interpersonal trust and lowest levels of inequality.

The World Happiness Report also provides another extremely compelling reason to prioritise wellbeing, and the research here is really quite startling. It shows that happier people tend to be healthier, recover from illness more quickly and live longer. At work, they perform better, exhibit more creativity, are absent less often and are better at cooperation and collaboration. And in wider society, they have better relationships, exhibit more pro-social behaviour, have greater self-control, engage in less risk-taking behaviour and are more likely to have a positive impact on others. So happier people are not lazy, naïve, inward-looking or selfish, as some sceptics suggest; they are actually more economically productive, healthy, socially-minded and generous.

So what practical changes might we make if we adopted wellbeing as a global priority? Of all the suggestions in the report, the most notable is the call for a fundamental shift in our approach to mental health. Worldwide, depression and anxiety disorders account for up to a fifth of the entire burden of illness…Making treatment for mental illness more widely available may well be the single most reliable and cost effective way to improve national wellbeing.

What then should be the world’s development goals for the coming years? Making wellbeing our global priority would surely underpin, rather than undermine, existing sustainable development aims. It would also provide a consistent means to track how successful countries are in delivering improvements in people’s quality of life. The reason that existing goals like universal education, gender equality, maternal health and sustainability matter so much is because they are all fundamental to human wellbeing.

Wellbeing isn’t some luxury for the privileged few, it’s the thing all of us want most for ourselves and the people we care about – whether in a field in Angola or an office in London. It should be at the heart of every discussion of local, national or global priorities.

Link to the original article 

photo credit: alles-schlumpf via photopin cc

photo credit: alles-schlumpf via photopin cc

Happiness: The Next Key Performance Indicator

Happy people live longer, are more productive, earn more and are better citizens, according to the second “World Happiness Report.”

by 

Most industrialized nations track their gross domestic product, exports and unemployment rates, among other key economic and social metrics that help quantify their standing in the world.

A new report calls on policymakers to include happiness in the mix.

Authored by leading experts in economics, psychology, survey analysis and national statistics, the second “World Happiness Report” describes how measurements of wellbeing can be used to assess the progress of nations.

Published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the report “further strengthens the case that wellbeing is a critical component of economic and social development,” according to the report’s editors…

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

Bonnie Greer 2013 Opening Lecture (Audio)

https://soundcloud.com/lahf/to-save-our-lives

Theatre maker and cultural commentator Bonnie Greer deliverers the second annual lecture to open the 2013 Creativity and Wellbeing Week on the evening of 17 June 2013 in a collaboration with Community Learning at Tate Modern.

In this talk, Bonnie uses a story about how art saved her own life to make  the case for the necessity of artists, arts and culture for  wellbeing in our contemporary lives.

Here are the definitions for wellbeing that Bonnie offers (from 9’10”):

…a positive outcome that is meaningful for people, and for many sectors of society as well.  People have to see and feel that their lives are going well.

Wellbeing is also what people think, and what they feel, bout their lives, such as the quality of their relationships, their positive emotions, their resilience, and the possibility of the realisation of their human potential, along with their overall satisfaction with life.

Another definition of wellbeing is a valid population measure that is beyond morbidity, mortality and economic status that tells us how people perceive their life is going from their own perspective.

And wellbeing is also associated with other realities like self-perceived health, longevity, healthy behaviours, mental and physical illness, social connectedness, productivity, factors in the social and physical environment…

Positive emotion, I’ve learned, is not just the opposite of negative emotion.  Positive emotion is a measurable dimension – we can actually see its effects.  It’s a dimension in which your job, your family, your health and your economic environment are as you want them to be.  Also as you imagine them to be.  Also as you think you deserve them to be based on your qualifications, your hard work, your mental and emotional capacity.  Positive emotion is a dimension in which you feel that you are understood and you are appreciated and you can function, you can make a contribution.

So wellbeing has to encompass positive emotions.  And these have been measured and shown in various health studies to decrease the risk of illness, of injury, and recovery is faster.  Studies have also been shown that the human immune system functions better with positive emotions.

So positive emotions keep us healthy and they keep us happy.

These ideas are developed and enriched during a vital, dynamic and defiantly optimistic Q&A session with the audience, which includes Damian Hebron from London Arts Health Forum (LAHF) (from 42’58”):

Bonnie Greer: I know a one-year-old who is showing me how to do an iPad.  And of course that means we’re in a revolution.  We haven’t got the tools yet to gauge how that human being is perceiving the world.  There will also be a place for live performance, live engagement, because we need the one-on-one, the body needs the one-on-one.  And we’re going to have to be more fierce about that.  I think what’s going to happen, in the next 10 years or so, as generations do, they’re going to be in technology but they’re going to turn around and look for the lie…  We’re losing empathy as human beings.  We’re losing the ability to look one another in the eye, to talk to one another, to listen to one another, to engage with one another.  And it’s affecting our health.  It’s affecting our mental health and it’s affecting our physical health.  So one of the things that culture can do is stand in the juncture of this revolution and create forms and new engagements and new links by which these two – the live and the technological can come together … We need to see technology as a way to enable empathy to be created.  That’s our first thing.

(from 50’56”)

We may be forced to define human capability, to measure human capability.  That may be one of the things those of us in culture.  And in a very tangible way I don’t how you begin to do that.  We’re going to need to make that case.  But in a strange way I am optimistic.  Because there is so much independence now … there’s a lot of independence-mindeness where people are breaking out and doing what they need to do, doing what they want to do in order to create these forms.  What we have to do is to make language to speak to those people who we have to justify what we do…

(from 53’15” in response to a question about what leadership skills we now need to engage people with power and resources: what is it that we need to do in terms of individual leadership, leadership as a group, leadership as a nation, to reach the people we need?

Damian Hebron:  One thing is what Bonnie was talking about: to speak the language that people are used to hearing. The other thing is what is unique about the arts and that is stories.  The things that really reach people is the storytelling.  One thing that artists can do well is to tell stories.  And that is something that will always be powerful and that people will always crave.  It can be easy to forget what we do so well which is to tell spell-binding stories in interesting and magical ways that actually speak to the whole human experience… to tell the stories of all human beings…  all of the side range of voices in contemporary society that you don’t always get to hear from other quarters.

Bonnie Greer:  One of the things that I love about the UK and that is really exciting about the UK is that you guys are rebels… It may not look like it or feel like it sometimes, but people want to make their own work in their own words, do their own work in their own way…  People make culture very easily here, and are open to it, and know how to do it, and naturally feel the links between culture and wellbeing…  We need to learn to shape stories to make a picture of how a community is functioning as a political entity, and also as a health entity… We mustn’t be put off by people who want to put us in the back of a bus, or call us all kinds of names, or say we don’t rate.  Culture, and we know this, is what saves people’s lives and it holds a community together.  And we must keep finding the language for saying this over and over and over and over and over.

(from 58’55”)

We have to make a case for cultural GDP.  We have to make a case for culture in our work and in our lives .  We have to say to policy makers: “If we weren’t here what would it look like?  What would community look like?  …

(from 1:07:05)

Maybe we need to go back to what the Ancient Greeks thought about culture and art.  It wasn’t just about decoration.  It wasn’t just a way to pass time.  It was a way in which human beings were able to understand the environment in which they were in, and to understand each other.  But not only that, it kept them well.  And one the things that we can do as cultural practitioners, is maybe we’re the people who have to use the word ‘wellbeing’.  Maybe we’re the people who have to define wellbeing and not be afraid to do it, not be ashamed to do it, not be embarrassed to do it.

Because, in the end, wellbeing is what we’re all striving for.  Wellbeing is what is going to cut those bills down.  Wellbeing is what is going to allow us all to go forward.  And culture becomes a way in which people can make and keep themselves well…  

Being well is about being able to see the possibilities for yourself as a human being…

photo credit: paul bica via photopin cc

photo credit: paul bica via photopin cc

Work Isn’t Life – Reprise

This is a superb article in which Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants asks some really great questions about happiness at work in our contemporary lives:

The historian and author, Studs Terkel, famously wrote, “Most of us have jobs that are too small for  our spirits.” 

 A few of you might be reacting to the title of this article thinking, Hey, my work is my life,” or My job is the most fulfilling thing in my life.

But that’s not what this article is about. Because life isn’t work. Yes, it can be a Big part of life, but it isn’t life.  In fact, in the recent popular news of a palliative nurses’ summary of the regrets of those who are dying, the only mention of work was, “I wish I had not worked so hard,” especially from men.

While it is thought that Freud said  Work and love are the cornerstones of our humanness, it is true that work is the primary activity in most people’s lives.   Work and love (however we define it) still are the primary forces that drive most of our actions.

For many, the role of work has changed dramatically in modern life.  The way we work is being redefined. The meaning of work is in the process of global redefinition. Yet, in many ways work’s deeper meanings still form the underlying basis for how work motivates us.

David Whyte, the inspiring author of “The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship, writes, All of us living at this time are descended from a long line of survivors who lived through the difficulties of history and prehistory: most of whom had to do a great deal of work to keep the wolf, the cold and the neighboring tribe from the door. Work was necessity: work meant food, shelter, survival and a sense of power over circumstances. Work was, and still is, endless.”

While the need for “food, shelter and survival” remains, the meaning of how we define work – and the context of work as part of life is changing.  And an important part of that equation is our constantly evolving sense of our “power over circumstances.” How that power is defined and who determines it is a critical aspect of the meaning of work – and life.

70 hour standard work weeks have, sadly, become the norm for many [us].  Even though there have been some gains in corporate policies (over half of companies surveyed say they offer some form of flex-time) research shows that employee experience doesn’t match corporate reports.  In many cases, employers send their workers double-messages about expectations about the hours and ways they work.

We don’t discuss “work addiction” much anymore because it has become endemic in the [our] work culture.

We tend to think that the  “movement” for work-life balance is simply about the real need to manage stress in this culture.  Even though recent studies all point to the workplace as the single greatest source of stress in the culture, the desire for more life outside of work and more life at work, goes beyond “stress management.”

A growing body of research has revealed that as many women are approaching “mid-life” (technically these women are  the upper percentages of the  Gen X  30- 44-year-old age cohort ) they are “becoming on average, sicker and sadder.” Results from six recent major happiness studies show that this drop in happiness occurs regardless of marital or child status, economic conditions or work-life factors.

Marcus Buckingham, author of Find Your Most Successful Life: What the Most Successful and Resilient Women Do Differently writes, Over the last 50 years, women have secured greater opportunity, greater achievement, greater influence and more money. But over the same period, have become less happy, more anxious, more stressed and, in ever-increasing numbers, self-medicating.” 

For those juggling the real demands of family and work, they do so in many workplaces that are still sorely lacking in support of life outside of work…

photo credit: Thomas Tolkien via photopin cc

photo credit: Thomas Tolkien via photopin cc

The Need to Ask New and Different Questions

If how we define work – and how we do that work is going through a major transition –  then we need to start asking a whole new set of questions about meaning.

  • Is work still expected to be drudgery? 
  • Do the demands of a job supersede our “personal” needs and desires?
  • How does the crumbling model of authoritarian command and control organizations impact the new mindset of work? 
  • How much emotional and creative freedom should we expect from our work?

Again, author David Whyte offers some illuminating thoughts, “The great questions that touch on personal happiness in work have to do with an ability to hold our own conversation amid the constant background of shouted needs, hectoring advice and received wisdom. In work, we have to find high ground safe from the arriving tsunami of expectations concerning what I am going to DO. Work is a place you can lose yourself more easily perhaps than finding yourself. It is a place of powerful undercurrents, a place to find ourselves, but also, a place to drown, losing all sense of our own voice, our own contribution and conversation.”

After hundreds of years of working in the shadow of a “Protestant” ethic, we are redefining work. But in the process, we are also redefining what makes a fully human life.  To do that, we must challenge every assumption that underpins the public and corporate policies that govern work.  But we also have to face our own thinking about what we believe about work, success and of course – money.  Money is a big elephant in our mental room.

Our own personal beliefs often justify work without adequate life as much as weak public policy or self-serving corporate practices do.  We may not (now) have the economic freedom to fully realize the balance of work and life – but we can reclaim what that means for us. It must begin there.

Link to read this article in its entirety

Seek Work-Life Harmony, Not Balance – 5 Key Strategies

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Randy Conley advises a re-think about the now perhaps outdated notion of work-life balance:

Work-life balance is a fallacy.

The very term is an oxymoron. Is “work” something you do apart from your “life?” Does your “life” not consist of your “work?” And think about the definition of the word balance – “a state of equilibrium or equal distribution of weight or amount.” We have bought into the idea that having fulfillment in our personal and professional lives means we have to give them equal weight and priority. It sets up a false dichotomy between the two choices and leads to perpetual feelings of guilt and remorse because we never feel like we’re giving 100% in either area.

Instead, we need to seek work-life harmony. Consider the definition of harmony – “a consistent, orderly, or pleasing arrangement of parts; congruity.” Work-life harmony is rooted in an integrated and holistic approach to life where work and play blend together in combinations unique to each individual. I can’t define what harmony looks like for you, but I can share five ways to help you discover it for yourself.

1. Be clear about your purpose in life ~ clarifying your purpose provides focus, direction, and energy to every area of your life

2. Seek contentment, not happiness ~ happiness is fine, but true work-life harmony comes when you find contentment….

3. Understand the seasons of life ~ our focus areas will ebb and flow. When driven by our sense of purpose, they all fit harmoniously together at the right time in the right way…

4. Establish reasonable boundaries ~ the banks of a river provide the boundaries that support the direction and flow of the water. Without those boundaries, the river becomes nothing more than a large puddle…

5. Be present ~ operating from a mindset of work-life balance instead of harmony … creates stress, tension, and guilt, because we always feel we’re out of balance, spending too much energy on one aspect of our lives at the expense of another. The result is we’re never fully present and invested in all areas of our life….

Achieving work-life harmony isn’t easy. It involves trial and error, learning what works and what doesn’t. There is constant assessment and re-calibration of how you’re investing your time and energy, but the payoff is less stress, peace of mind, and increased devotion and passion toward all you do in life.

Link to read  Randy Conley’s guidance in full

Don’t Send Yet! 9 Email Mistakes You’re Probably Making – and how to fix them

Are your emails too long?  Too short?  Sent to too many people?  Or at the wrong time?  Learn how to say exactly what you want – without annoying those on the receiving end

BY: 

Email. The bane of your existence, a tool that seems to define many of your waking hours, a mode of communication invented only two decades ago.

We all use it, some of us love it, and many of us dread it.

There are plenty of tips and tricks about making email more efficient–using specifictools like boomerang, limiting yourself to certain hours per day and chasing the dream of inbox zero…

Are your emails getting the results you want?

When you improve the way you write and learn how to design better messages, you will resonate with the reader, improve sharability, and increase the bottom line.

Last week, I caught up with writer, designer, and strategist Sarah Peck, who teaches workshops on developing effective communication skills. We talked about using email to get more of what you want and what mistakes everyone is making in this commonplace communication form.

Here are nine common mistakes you might be making:

1. Sending emails only when you need something.

The best time to build any relationship is before you need something, not waiting until the moment you need something…

2. Forgetting that there’s a person on the other side of your email.

Just as you wouldn’t walk into a friend’s house for dinner and bark out a command, often those little niceties in the intro and end of a message can go a long way. Social cues aren’t dated constructs; they’re valuable warm-up phrases in communication. Start by saying hi, comment on someone’s latest achievements, and wish the other person well…

3. Using the first person too much.

Many emails–and essays–are written exclusively in first person. Shift the focus to the recipient and consider what they want, need, or would like to hear. After writing an email, scan it quickly for how many times you use the word “I.” See if you can edit some of them out…

4. Sending the email at the wrong time.

Just because you’ve written it now doesn’t mean it needs to be sent at this exact moment. Delaying the send is one of the most powerful and underutilized tools of emailing.

Evaluate whether or not the message is urgent and needs to be replied to immediately. If you’re cleaning up your inbox during your scheduled time, fire off the messages that are urgent and consider sending messages in the morning…

5. Sending to too many people.

More recipients in the “To” field does not mean that you’ll necessarily get more answers. In the age of digital marketing, people who blast messages in broadcast form without understanding who is in the “to” line can erode their chances of a message being opened. A perfect email is one that’s sent to exactly who it needs to go to, with a specified desired outcome…

6. Knowing nothing about the person receiving your email.

Do your homework on the recipient. One great tool to glean fast information about who you’re talking to is Rapportive, a sidebar that lets you see the latest public posts (and a picture) of the person you’re communicating to.

7. Forgetting to send updates or interim messages.

If you’re waiting for an important message from someone, the time spent waiting for a delivery can seem interminable. If there’s a long delay in sending an item that’s highly anticipated or expected, or you’ve experienced a few hiccups–send a one-liner email to update your receiver on the status of the project. You’ll know that you need to send a quick note when you start to get anxious about not delivering or they seem to be a bit flippant.

8. Making messages too long.

Depending on the nature of the message, emails can vary from a few words to thousands of words. The longer the email, the less likely that someone will read the entire thing. Long emails generally mean that a larger strategy, framework, or document might be in order…

9. Using email exclusively.

Efficiency does not necessarily mean one single system. Often, redundancy in communication can be extremely helpful, as each tool (video, chat, email, Skype) adds a layer of human nuance back into the correspondence that’s happening…

Now: 4 ways to focus on writing better emails:

Tell sticky stories. Everything makes more sense with an illustration. Highlight and example, illustrate an ideal customer avatar, or tell a specific instance of a problem you had. Setting the context and the stage (that seems obvious to you, the writer), makes it easier for people to understand the pain point, the context, and the reason why you’re writing. When people can see your story–who you are, where you come from, why you’re doing what you’re doing–it’s easier for them to become a part of it.

Use the four-sentence, one-link rule: Keep your email to under four sentences (or five!). Focus on the pain point or problem you’re solving. Limit yourself to only one link. If you have to, make that link a document.

Be responsive and reflective: Observe how others communicate and adapt your style to meet them midway. Customize your communication by mirroring the style of a received message. Does someone send short messages with formal addresses? Respond in style.

Bookmark emails that you love with Evernote. Use the vast number of emails in front of you (and in your inbox) as clues to great messaging. Watch what emails you open first and are most excited about. Create a few folders in your mailbox system for great introductions, sample short messages, and thank-you notes that you like. Keep these for future use if you’re ever in a bind. In any art, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel–and paying attention to great writers (and what we personally enjoy) is a great way to get started.

Email is our number one form of communication, which means that everyone is a writer. The most powerful thing you can do in both your personal and business life is learn how to write well and tell great stories. Messages that persuade, content that converts, and language that inspires action are critical for getting what you want.

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: wakingphotolife: via photopin cc

photo credit: wakingphotolife: via photopin cc

How To Maintain Your Creativity When Working From Home

Andra writes in PIXEL77

There are a great many benefits to working from home, including flexibility of working hours, taking unscheduled days off, waving goodbye to working in formal business wear and spending more quality time with the family. However, working from home can also produce challenges, including reduced creativity…

Fortunately, you need not despair as there are a number of strategies to help you maintain your creativity.

Have a Change of Scenery…

Do Something Different…

Start a Pet Project…

Get Some Exercise…

Analyse Why Your Creativity is Waning…

Take A Nap…

Seek Help From Your Peers…

Take Time for Laughter….

Link to read Andra’s suggestions in full

photo credit: mrbill78636 via photopin cc

photo credit: mrbill78636 via photopin cc

You’re Doing What?? (Part 2)

Rosella Hart remembers the good and the bad aspects of directing a show with Shaky Isles Theatre and her 7 month old son in the room:

Baby is not really welcome in most places in fact. Not truly…perhaps if they are impossibly well behaved the whole time.. perhaps in certain social settings… but I am not aware of any model in our society that allows for the mum/baby unit to exist together in a working or professional context (if they WANT to; a crucial point and another topic)

So having an opportunity to work creatively in a company that would welcome us as a unit was something I really had to do, knowing I might not get another chance for a long time…

OK, so the bad stuff first…for me, it was stressful to split my focus, I had moments of feeling like a bad parent and honestly it was a relief when he was taken out for a few hours. I wasn’t able to be at opening night, and promptly broke out in stress hives the next day (which I have never had before) and by the time the show opened I was pretty much at the end of my physical endurance regarding sleep. In retrospect, probably the biggest down-side was that rehearsals began just as he was starting to get better at sleeping, and the combination of disrupted daytimes and a knackered mother once the show was up and running, did put us on a bad sleep cycle which we have only just now started to kick (now being a year later)

BUT, I got to do something else with my brain, and socialise, which I wasn’t doing before; partly because I was too tired, disorganised and unmotivated to get out the house, but also not having family or close friends in London. My theatre family filled that gap (as it always has done). Although my physical health suffered, I think my mental health was better for it, and if I had the choice to make again, I would do it again.

For Jasper it was definitely a positive experience. Socialising every day all day with other adults, in that specific environment, listening to and watching actors work (he was particularly fascinated by the ‘yes-no’ game in improvisation) and also to be taken away from me for a bit and have some time with other (wonderful, creative) people was great for his development. The negative impact on his sleep after being fed, held and prammed to sleep all day every day for a few months, was a big price to pay, but really it was me that paid it…

It’s funny how often the word ‘inclusion’ is bandied around, usually in terms of disability or minority, seldom in regard to babies and children, who must be among the most excluded groups out there. Or perhaps ghettoised; there is plenty for kids, but it is a world apart. So many gigs and interesting things start after bed time, which means that if, like me, your wee one isn’t really sleeping reliably at night without you, as an adult you are suddenly cut off from a huge part of adult life, especially if you have no aunties, uncles, grandparents etc around to help out. Not something you can really appreciate or factor in before having kids. One of the best things for me about being in the production was the opportunity to do something normal and not about ‘baby’, and to be enabled to do that by the support of people who believed that I should be able to…

So… thinking of doing it yourself? A few ideas…

Link to get Rosella’s suggestions and read her story in full 

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin cc

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin cc

Making Awesome People Happy At Work (and stopping them from quitting)

Taro Fukuyama, co-founder and CEO of AnyPerk writes about happiness at work and his take on why it matters so much:

It’s fairly common knowledge that happy employees are simply better at their jobs. No matter the industry, hours, or education required, individuals perform better when their spirits are high. They are more engaged, more motivated, more likely to be pleasant to one another and any customers they encounter, and are thinking more creatively to solve problems and improve company operations.

This makes perfect sense, and the opposite is equally true. Employees who are miserable, angry, depressed, or just generally unhappy do not perform to the best of their abilities. They are disengaged and easily distracted, they cut corners and deflect responsibility, and simply don’t care about the quality of work they produce.

And yet a great deal of businesses just don’t do it. They think that extra investment in perks, or making their employees happier won’t get them anything other than in the red.

They’re wrong. According to clinical psychologist Dr. Noelle Nelson, you can literally Make More Money by Making Your Employees Happy. I’d have to agree – when CEOs and managers can put their egos aside and focus on making the actual workers happier, they’ll be richer too.

The challenge? Well, because every company, and every individual, is different, there’s no steadfast rulebook for making employees happy and engaged. It’s interpretive at best, and most companies will have to reflect on their own internal processes and workflow to determine how to make the company a more enjoyable place to work.

While this is vague at best, there are a few principles to follow. And they’re obvious to some – but you’d be surprised how many companies (startups and Fortune 500′s alike) fail to provide them:

1. Recognition

People want to know when they are doing something right. They want to receive credit for their accomplishments, and they want to know that their contributions to goals of the company are seen and appreciated…

2. Individuality

This goes hand in hand with recognition, but on an even more individualized level. People don’t like to feel like cogs in a machine, with no identity beyond their job description. The best way to avoid this is to get to know employees individually, and, more importantly, to understand the complex and unique lives that each and every one of them lead…

3. Perks

People want to be proud of the place they work, not just of the company’s end product or service, but also proud of what it means to be an employee of that particular company. One of the best ways to add prestige to particular job is to include bonuses that go beyond a standard paycheck…

4. Understanding

…As a CEO, a manager, or anyone ordering around other people, you have to understand, use and work on your own product. I don’t care if you’ve got a million meetings. I don’t care if you like your comfy chair and the lack of stress. As a manager you should be as or more stressed as the employees. If they’re not, they’re probably a crappy manager.

This also means that if someone makes a mistake you cannot and should not skewer them. Disciplining an employee is a necessary and painful evil. Making an example of them and breaking them on a personal level is worthless. I’d also wager it makes you worthless too.

5. Ignorance of “Company Culture”

Your company culture should not be complex. It should be about doing good work, making your customers happy and executing on an idea. This may come with a few elements of stress. This may involve the eventual firing of people. This should not at any point involve not taking someone on because they’re not a good cultural fit.

“Culture” in companies has become an abused term to ostracize and oust those who might disagree with the incumbent staff. It’s very easy to be upset when someone says that something that everyone does is wrong, or that someone who has been around for a while is doing wrong. You have to be wiling to review every process and element of your company with a critical eye…

Conclusion

Much of this boils down to respect, and just taking steps to foster a work environment that radiates positivity. When individuals are surrounded by smiling, happy people, they tend to feel that way themselves. Happiness has a way of breeding more happiness, and when each employee feels like an asset to the company, those feelings of value multiply upon themselves.

Value really is the key principle here – what can companies do make employees feel valued?

By treating each worker with respect, recognizing their individuality, and trying to make sure that whatever the job may be, it fits in with the other aspects of their lives as best it can, businesses can build a mutual commitment between workplace and employee…

When a company legitimately cares about its employees (and shows it), it’s much easier for the employee to care about the wellbeing of the company, and put in the effort to help it flourish.

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: Photosightfaces via photopin cc

photo credit: Photosightfaces via photopin cc

Smiling In Facebook Photos Can Predict Wellbeing For Years Down-The-Line

Turns out your smiley Facebook friends really are happier than you

By 

Take a quick look at your current Facebook profile picture. Are you posing alone? Is is a boisterous group picture? A professional-looking headshot? Is there duckface involved?Whether you’re teetering with a Coors Light in your hand or sitting serenely in a tasteful pose, a new study says there’s only one thing that really matters: Are you smiling?

According to researchers at the University of Virginia, the intensity of smiles in Facebook profile pictures can accurately predict the well-being of undergraduates over the course of their college careers.

“One implication of my paper is that you can get a fairly accurate indication by looking at people’s Facebook photos based on how intensely they’re smiling in the photos how good those people are socially,” says one of the researchers, post-doctoral instructor Patrick Seder. The paper, titled “Intensity of Smiling in Facebook Photos Predicts Future Life Satisfaction” explains that it took authentic looking photos with smiles (no “jokey” pictures allowed) to make these predictions…

The researchers looked at two groups of Facebook users, taking their first assessments in 2005 and 2006. They selected users were freshman in their first semester at the University of Virginia, and had profile picture photographs that could be analyzed for smile intensity. They measured the intensity of the sample groups’ smiles after taking them through a series of tests to gauge their general well-being and levels of extroversion. The researchers checked back in with their subjects at the end of their college careers and looked at their contentment levels again.

They found that the students who had the most intense smiles in their profile pictures during the first semester of school reported more happiness both in that first semester as well as 3.5 years later. They also found that they could predict whether these students would increase their reported well-being based on the smile intensity.

To boil it down, the students with bigger grins in Facebook photos posted at the beginning of college reported more life satisfaction both during the time period they posted the photos, and at the end of their college careers…

the researchers noted that people who express positive emotions tend to elicit positive emotions in other people (in simpler terms, smiling is contagious). Since people value those who make them smile, a Facebook photo that reinforces the image of someone as a smiley, happy person could strengthen relationships.

It’s a sort of “the chicken or the egg?” conundrum. Do you smile because you’re happy or do you smile and become happy? Either way, there’s a correlation. And since these researchers ran the test twice and got the same results, you’re probably better off playing it safe and deleting that sourpuss face profile picture.

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: toodlepip via photopin cc

photo credit: toodlepip via photopin cc

Put On A Happy Face(book)

By 

…Although many people believe we self-aggrandize on Facebook, research finds that for the most part, what we see is who we are; our Facebook profiles tend to be pretty accurate expressions of our personalities.

But we all know that even people whose lives appear to be thrill a minute on Facebook sometimes get cranky; sprout zits; have boring evenings; fight with their significant others; have bad hair days; and other not super-duper fun things. They just choose not to share those moments.

Let us consider instead the positive power of Facebook for making us feel good about ourselves: We can do the same thing. We can make ourselves look fun and fascinating on Facebook by selective posting. What’s more, if we do it without making stuff up, then we are actually the person we appear to be on Facebook.

Maybe you’re not as dull as you think. There’s a really good chance you look as cool to other people as other people do to you. While you’re busy envying other people’s lives, maybe other people are envying yours…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: toodlepip via photopin cc

photo credit: toodlepip via photopin cc

What happens To Your Brain When People Like Your Facebook Status

THORIN KLOSOWSKI reports on more new research using Facebook to understand more about what might help to make us happy:

In research published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, researchers found that they could predict people’s Facebook use by looking at how their brain reacted to positive social feedback in a scanner:P

Specifically, a region called the nucleus accumbens, which processes rewarding feelings about food, sex, money and social acceptance became more active in response to praise for oneself compared to praise of others.  And that activation was associated with more time on the social media site.

As it turns out, the social affirmation that comes when people like your status updates is addictive, which might help explain why people tend to spend so much time on Facebook:

On the social media site, the pleasure deriving from attention, kind words, likes, and LOLs from others occurs only sporadically.  Such a pattern for rewards is far more addictive than receiving a prize every time, in part because the brain likes to predict rewards, and if it can’t find a pattern, it will fuel a behavior until it finds one. So if the rewards are random, the quest may continue compulsively.

The research is still fresh, but it makes sense that social media addiction is tied to the reward center of the brain…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: andyi via photopin cc

photo credit: andyi via photopin cc

And this research throws upside down some of the conclusions many us of us might have been making about the effects on young people of video gaming…

New video game research concludes gaming improves emotional, social, psychological well-being

BY 

A research group comprised of members from various Australian universities has concluded a review showing strong positive effects on the well-being of young people across key areas.

The review analysed over 200 papers from various research teams across the world and revealed strong patterns that show many of the negative myths surrounding video games are, well, exactly that.

Among the key findings from the analysis are that:

  • There are many creative, social and emotional benefits from playing videogames, including violent games (Kutner & Olson 2008).
  • Although ‘excessive’ gamers showed mild increases in problematic behaviors (such as somatic symptoms; anxiety and insomnia; social dysfunction, and general mental health status), it was nongamers who were associated with the poorest mental health correlates (Allahverdipour et al 2010).
  • Frequency of play does not significantly relate to body mass index or academic grade point average (Wack & Tentelett-Dunn 2009)
  • Videogames have been found to be an effective play therapy tool. Children can be helped to change their views of themselves and the world around through metaphors in games, e.g., ‘the force’ in Lego Star Wars, gaining ‘attributes’ in SSX-3 (snowboarding), and conquering ‘quests’ in RuneScape (Hull 2009).

“We found that playing video games positively influences young people’s emotional state, vitality, engagement, competence and self-acceptance,” explain the authors of the review on The Conversation, saying that it is “associated with higher self-esteem, optimism, resilience, healthy relationships and social connections and functioning”.

“Emerging research suggests that how young people play, as well as with whom they play, may be more important in terms of well-being than what they play. Feelings of relatedness or flow while playing, and playing with people you know are better predictors of well-being than the genre of game played.”

You can read the full story and analyse the findings for yourself over at The Conversation.

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth In Ancient Wisdom by Joanthan Haidt

abduzeedo recommends this book is about positive psychology, the title is The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt, which I am currently reading and thoroughly enjoying:

In his widely praised book, award-winning psychologist Jonathan Haidt examines the world’s philosophical wisdom through the lens of psychological science, showing how a deeper understanding of enduring maxims – like Do unto others as you would have others do unto you, or What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – can enrich and even transform our lives.

The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, lamented St. Paul, and this engrossing scientific interpretation of traditional lore backs him up with hard data. Citing Plato, Buddha and modern brain science, psychologist Haidt notes the mind is like an “elephant” of automatic desires and impulses atop which conscious intention is an ineffectual “rider.”

Haidt sifts Eastern and Western religious and philosophical traditions for other nuggets of wisdom to substantiate—and sometimes critique—with the findings of neurology and cognitive psychology. The Buddhist-Stoic injunction to cast off worldly attachments in pursuit of happiness, for example, is backed up by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s studies into pleasure. And Nietzsche’s contention that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger is considered against research into post-traumatic growth.

An exponent of the “positive psychology” movement, Haidt also offers practical advice on finding happiness and meaning. Riches don’t matter much, he observes, but close relationships, quiet surroundings and short commutes help a lot, while meditation, cognitive psychotherapy and Prozac are equally valid remedies for constitutional unhappiness.

Haidt sometimes seems reductionist, but his is an erudite, fluently written, stimulating reassessment of age-old issues

photo credit: Ano Lobb. @healthyrx via photopin cc

photo credit: Ano Lobb. @healthyrx via photopin cc

Empathy + Placebo = Healing?

Psychotherapy, voodoo, and complementary/alternative medicine (CAM) are all cut from the same cloth; they are ‘healing methods’ that relieve symptoms because they provide two key things: empathy and the placebo effect (E&P).

…Belgian physicians Mommaerts and Devroey in a new paper: From “Does it work?” to “What is it?” … say that, given that Empathy + Placebo effect are a powerful psychological force, it makes little sense to ask of any particular complementary/alternative medicine, “Does it work?”.  So long as it provides non-specific Empathy + Placebo effect, just about any intervention will work…

Empathy + Placebo effect is often the only thing people need.  But it can be hard to find it in mainstream medicine. The authors write:

Complementary/alternative medicine represents a failing of scientific medicine, in that complementary/alternative medicine seeks to address patients’ needs that are lost in the technologically focused interactions of modern medicine. Complementary/alternative medicine represents many patients’ search for empathy.

Perhaps there’s a solution: more empathy in mainstream medicine, or in general, some kind of ‘pure’ Empathy + Placebo effect that doesn’t rely on unscientific foundations? This is what the authors suggest….

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: alles-schlumpf via photopin cc

photo credit: alles-schlumpf via photopin cc

There Is No App For Happiness

 writes in The Huffington Post Blog

“No poet is ever going to write about gazing into his lover’s emoticons.”

I bought a perfectly good flip phone three years ago, but lately people tease me about it as if I’m using something from the Victorian Era. Before that, I had a different flip phone, which followed an analog cell phone. Remember those? And before that, I had a telephone with a wire that stuck in a wall. You want to know which one had the best sound quality? The one that stuck in the wall. But I digress… What I want to talk about is what hasn’t been upgraded: the quality of human communication. The quality of our conversations with friends and loved ones hasn’t improved one bit. In fact, many people now send text messages instead of conversing at all. We have far greater access, but far less intimacy.

Information technology is expanding at such a rate that nearly every aspect of our world has been impacted, yet there has been no corresponding expansion of personal happiness. Instead, we find that we have become anxious, sleep-deprived, depressed, and over-medicated. For example, one in four women in the United States takes antidepressants and/or anti anxiety medication, with men not far behind. And for sleep? The Center for Disease Control has declared that insufficient sleep is an epidemic.

My premise is not that technology is supposed to increase our happiness but that our society now believes it does. We have become confused as to the difference between happiness and entertainment. The constant glancing into our smart phone to see if anyone has pinged us, while a friend is sitting across the table speaking to us, are indicators that we are addicted to something that is making us less considerate and more alienated.

Here is one of the most important statistics you may ever read that explains the clash of human happiness with text-based technology. According to research from 1981, approximately 90 percent of human communication is nonverbal. So although we are more connected than ever, when we communicate with text, it is only 10 percent of us that is connected. It is no wonder we feel more alienated. The overuse of social media, texting, and gaming is causing our society, especially young people, to develop symptoms that remind me of Asperger syndrome — verbal difficulties, avoiding eye contact, inability to understand social rules and read body language, and difficulty in forming true friendships.

Emotional intimacy requires personal knowledge of the deeper dimensions of another being and is developed through trust. Trust can begin, or end, with a first glance, because, like other animals, we inherently know a great deal about each other through body language and tone of voice. In fact, we often ascertain the trustworthiness of a person in mere seconds, without a word spoken. Based on nonverbal communication we regularly make life-altering decisions; whether or not to begin a business relationship, accept a date with someone, or allow someone to look after your child. We rely on nonverbal communication at the deepest level of our being.

Innovators are making great strides in programing humanoid-type robots that have faces and can produce human expressions. These robots are programmed to make eye contact and to read and respond to human emotional expressions, tone of voice, and body language. The strange and perhaps history-bending irony is that we are teaching robots to make eye contact and watch for nonverbal cues, but meanwhile, we humans are now avoiding these things, opting instead to send texts and then adding smiley faces to crudely humanize the message. We are humanizing robots as we voluntarily dehumanize ourselves.

In my new book, There is No App for Happiness, (Skyhorse August 2013) I introduce readers to three imperatives that accelerate change from the inside out, humanizing change that I believe can make us happier. The one I will mention here is Life-Span Management. We have an incongruous schism between the concepts of our time and our life as if they were two completely separate things. In one hand we have a precious short life, and in the other hand we have time to kill. Time is not only money, it is much more than that; it is the minutes and seconds of our mortal life. Your time is the finite resource from which you experience this world — everyone, everything, and especially that which you are devoted to and live for. Because it is a finite resource, whether we are aware of it or not, we all purchase each time-event at the cost of another. When we come to this realization, a giant bell rings as we comprehend how much of our life-span we have been wasting on meaningless activities that serve no one and nothing. Happiness costs something. What are you willing to sacrifice to have more life/time? And what is stealing your time?

Remember Steve Job’s famous quote? “My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.”

I am sharing this quote not because it is unique, because it isn’t. I share this particular quote because these words were spoken by the icon of tech success. Jobs achieved great wealth, power, and fame, only to discover that his favorite things in life were free — and not made from silicon.

To be clear, I am not anti-technology. Quite the contrary, I am even an advocate of self-driving cars. But I think that we have to select our technology wisely. If we bring technology into our life, it should simplify our life and give us more free time, not take it away. If it doesn’t make your current life run more seamlessly, get rid of it. Everything new is not better.

Maybe it’s time we start applying Silicon Valley style innovation to ourselves so that we find a path to a more meaningful experience of living, and a more sane world.

Link to read this  article in its original

photo credit: Don J Schulte via photopin cc

photo credit: Don J Schulte via photopin cc

20 Poets on the Meaning of Poetry

Alison Nastasi gives a few brief definitions of poetry by famous poets:

We’ve been thinking about poet Meena Alexander’s incredible address to the Yale Political Union, in which she refers to Shelley’s 1821 essay, A Defence of Poetry. The English poet’s work famously stated, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Alexander concludes:

“The poem is an invention that exists in spite of history…In a time of violence, the task of poetry is in some way to reconcile us to our world and to allow us a measure of tenderness and grace with which to exist… Poetry’s task is to reconcile us to the world — not to accept it at face value or to assent to things that are wrong, but to reconcile one in a larger sense, to return us in love, the province of the imagination, to the scope of our mortal lives.”

photo credit: Denis Collette...!!! via photopin cc

photo credit: Denis Collette…!!! via photopin cc

Other poets have attempted to interpret “what is deeply felt and is essentially unsayable.” …

Percy Bysshe Shelley

There are a few more choice snippets from Shelley’s 1821 essay, A Defence of Poetry, that articulated the essence of poetry:

“Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.”

“Poetry, in a general sense, may be defined to be ‘the expression of the imagination’: and poetry is connate with the origin of man.”

Emily Dickinson

“If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?”

photo credit: Robert S. Donovan via photopin cc

photo credit: Robert S. Donovan via photopin cc

Robert Frost

“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”

“Poetry is what gets lost in translation.”

Salvatore Quasimodo

“Poetry is the revelation of a feeling that the poet believes to be interior and personal which the reader recognizes as his own.”

Mary Oliver

“Poetry isn’t a profession, it’s a way of life. It’s an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something out of that.”

William Wordsworth

“I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind.”

John Cage

“There is poetry as soon as we realize that we possess nothing.”

Kahlil Gibran

“Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary.”

William Hazlitt

“Poetry is all that is worth remembering in life.”

Edith Sitwell

“Poetry is the deification of reality.”

photo credit: youngdoo via photopin cc

photo credit: youngdoo via photopin cc

Marianne Moore

“Poetry is the art of creating imaginary gardens with real toads.”

Theodore Roethke

“You must believe: a poem is a holy thing — a good poem, that is.”

James K. Baxter

“The poem is a plank laid over the lion’s den.”

Link to read the full set of quotations

photo credit: Cali4beach via photopin cc

photo credit: Cali4beach via photopin cc

STEM Subjects versus the arts: why languages are just as important

Lucy Jeynes writes in Guardian Professional:

…I confess that I myself wondered whether reading 19th century French novels could honestly be considered study and not pure indulgence. When I first entered the world of work, I felt that perhaps I should have studied something more “useful”. It has taken the perspective of a 20-year-career in a fairly technical, male-dominated field to appreciate the enormous benefits of my degree.

Living and studying in other countries has helped me to understand cultural cues, essential in today’s global economy. The study of other languages has given me a deep understanding of the richness of English, which enables me to say precisely what I mean.

Studying languages has helped me to write compelling proposals, unambiguous tender specifications, complex arbitrations, engaging conference speeches and insightful trade press articles – all of which have helped me to reach the top of my career in facilities management.

In a profession filled with engineers and surveyors, the ability to communicate technical content effectively and quickly has turned out to be a valuable skill…

…Belinda Parmar is right to highlight the gender bias: only 33% of university languages students are male. We need more men to study languages, just as we need more women to study STEM subjects. In our technological age, we still need thinkers, writers and artists. Otherwise, who will develop the content for all the wonderful devices that geeks are inventing?

Study what you love and you will do well. You will find a way to build it into your career: learning anything is never a waste.

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: rAmmoRRison via photopin cc

photo credit: rAmmoRRison via photopin cc

To Change The World (Steve McCurry’s Blog)

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
– Nelson Mandela

Steve McCurry’s new collection celebrates moments of people learning, and, as always,, his photos are powerful testimony to the very best of what it can mean to be human and alive in today’s world across our blue planet.

The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled. 
– Plutarch

photo credit: Wonderlane via photopin cc

photo credit: Wonderlane via photopin cc

Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.
– John Steinbeck

Follow this link to feast your eyes and your soul on Steve McCurry’s images

photo credit: .craig via photopin cc

photo credit: .craig via photopin cc

Transitions

Mary O’Connor reflects in the Shaky Isles Theatre blog about change and moving on:

Etymology:- 1550s, from Latin transitionem (nominative transitio) “a going across or over,” noun of action from past participle stem of transire “go or cross over”

“I’m not very good at transitions” I say to myself, to others…

“it’s just this bit, I’ll be ok when Autumn comes with leaves , conkers, apples , Halloween, golden light and a promise of Christmas” is not an end.

I’m on a bridge. From one experience to the next. So, I’m not good at bridges? This bridge feels a little bit rickety right now?

Ok ,  so I’m going to have to let go, and hold onto the bridge. Look where I’m going. Look ahead.

Link to read Mary’s piece in full

Happiness At Work Edition #63

You will find all of these stories, and many more, in this week’s  Happiness At Work Edition #63 of 13the September 2013

We hope you enjoy…

photo credit: mysza831 via photopin cc

photo credit: mysza831 via photopin cc

Beyond Glorious – what made this symposium so very special and extraordinary

Sheila Ghelani's conversation starters: http://sheilaghelani.co.uk

Sheila Ghelani’s conversation starters: http://sheilaghelani.co.uk

Beyond Glorious: the radical in engaged artistic practices

Thursday 30 May to Sunday 2 June 2013, Birkbeck College and Artsadmin, London

What is the place of art in acts of social re-imagination and repair?
What languages can be found to articulate such practices?
Is it possible to break new ground within the realm of engaged artistic practices?

This symposium marked the end of Rajni Shah Projects’ Glorious.  It brought together people from different spheres of life to discuss and experience the meanings, methods and effects of art in relation to engaged and radical practices.  Using Glorious as a starting point, events explored the potential of engaged artistic practices, not in terms of a reductive understanding of the ‘efficacy’ of art in the world, but as a complicating, delicate, nuanced, uneasy journey towards new ways of thinking.

What to say to capture and keep for memory about an event that lived and breathed through its quiet gentle generous friendliness?

Not just this.  This makes it sound too much like a tea party.  Which it was.  Its tea-and-cakeness was a vital part of its spirit and its lightness.  But it was so very very much more as well.

One of the symposium’s central questions explicitly tried to open out this difficulty of expressing the intangible, articulated in the question What remains?

Elizabeth Lynch (independent producer and external evaluator for Glorious), Mary Paterson (writer, producer, creative documentation for Glorious), Sarah Spanton (Waymarking), and

Chloé Déchery (theatre-maker, writer, co- artistic director of ÉCLATS Festival) opened a series of conversations around questions about what and who matters, needs to be held up and out in testament to show the worth and value out of work that makes and finds its intrinsic liveness in quiet nearly invisible and usually disregarded moments of connection, relationship, insight, inhalation.

From this session I remember the word ‘traces’ being important – as something slight and nearly gone that remains after the rest of its bulk has disintegrated, and also as something that we might use as a guide to trace out a new form from what has been left for us to follow.  We talk about when something is ‘gone without a trace’ but in doing so somehow keep still a trace of what it was that has gone.  But these subtle nuances are badly unequal to these shout-y times of unquestioning demands and unambiguous agendas.

I remember, too, the question: who gets to decide the value and worth of what was done? and I remember thinking, and am thinking still, this must be the people we hoped to bring some value and worth to, to make something that they find valuable and worthwhile.  And worrying that too seldom we go to these people to ask and listen to to decide the worth of what we have done.

But these are big questions that took the concentration of this whole symposium, as well as the work of Glorious itself, as well – as I discovered through this event – as well as a great deal more work that is being made quietly and unchampioned out there in the world amongst its peoples.  These are questions too big for this piece to try and sensibly answer.

Start again.

What I am remembering still about this experience are moments of easy unexpected encounter that tumbled joyfully out from alert interest and invitation and into depths and diversity of conversation.

I remember the warm friendliness and easy friendly warmth that was begun and renewed each day by Rajni waiting at the gate, or the outside door, to greet and welcome people as they arrived.  When I joined her in this quiet ritual for the last brunch event I discovered for myself how personal, charged and engaged this made me feel.  A small act done with great love that I am convinced sent out a ripple of similar welcomings and greetings across the whole event.

I remember the repeated joy of surprise encounters.  Sometimes these came from extended conversations with the people I was working alongside to make the backroom support.  Sometimes this was a stranger asking me to join them for lunch and drawing me lightly into their conversation.  Sometimes it was the joyful ‘aha’ of hearing the wisdom of another’s experience or the sharp brightness of their questioning inside the sessions.  What made these encounters so exceptional was their unusualness – I seldom have this same experience at other events – and their frequency.  I don’t believe it was my Glorious team member’s badge that made the difference, but rather that a mood and expectation and curiosity and readiness for surprising encounters that was woven through the DNA of this whole event: in its themes and its processes and its design and in the behaviours and values if its makers.  You get what you go looking for and something was in the water we were all drinking at this symposium that made us all more heads up, eyes open, ears widened…

I remember too the luxury of space…

…the space of time from 2hour sessions and 2hour lunch breaks with local restauranteurs who greeted us like they knew us and made us feel this meal would be special.  This elongated time that allowed for an unfolding discovery of dialogue rather than the more usual forced smash of ideas through too little time, too tight an agenda, too squeezed a set of objectives and expectations;

…the space and spaces made by questions that created openings and extensions rather than the more usual objectives that push for reductive thinking and positioning, driving and herding us into conclusions and certainties (as if there could be any, but how often are we asked, anyway, to just let go of our intelligent beliefs that our situations and ambitions are way too complex to carry the heavyweight load of certainty?);

…the physical space of being able to inhabit different spaces, to choose a session that involved walking after lunch each day, to, at any time, come into the coffee-always-ready-and-several-varieties-of-tea-room to sit, take time out, chill, or make your own conversations.

I remember, too, and maybe this above all else, how all the espoused values we, as the company, and we, as this makeshift community, were championing, advocating, advancing were every bit in evidence in the practice and experience of this event:  qualities of generosity and friendliness and inclusion and welcome and giving and gifts and relationship and exceptional experience at every moment and being fully present in every moment…  all these qualities were alive and active.  This is rare, and, sadly, it is a kind of truism that whatever is held to be most important for the people we work to benefit, we are least likely to be doing well for ourselves.

Blossoms on Branch

There is something more to say about this symposium, and this about the depth and range and interrogation of the inquiries that were the thread and weave of this symposium.  I have so far, perhaps, made it seem like a collusive gathering of the smug and complacent.  But its questions and the responses people bought were challenging and original.  And the provocations that started each day were provoking, not in a way that antagonised or tore at us, but rather they invited a kind of positive disruption, nudging us to think bigger, better, wider, more keenly.

One of the symposium’s most difficult acts to pull off – and that it did is further testament to its great success – was that many of its participants came without any prior knowledge or experience of  Glorious, the project on which it was built, and yet in conversation after conversation there seemed to me an equal sense of ownership and involvement and engagement and trust and uncertainty in the material, irrespective of how much immersion in Glorious you came with.

So my learning to take away in a memo to ourselves:

…continue, when preparing events, to devote time and creativity and care and minute attention to what will help to make a great experience for the people who will come.  Because, just as we have always believed, this matters immensely, and, because we might just dip into believing that we are already doing this enough.  And this experience has shown me that there is much more that is simple and wonderful that we could be doing.

A note: lest I seem to be bragging intolerably about this event I should say that I take no credit for its many successes.  I was there and helped to make it work, yes, but the things that it made it so very special and exceptional belong to a whole team who made it and especially the people who imagined and led it.  And, yes, to Rajni herself for the light gifted way she held it and us so potently open.

 

A beautiful bespoke publication that contains Mary Patterson’s  exquisite reveries about Glorious, and Elizabeth Lynch’s storytelling consideration of what Glorious achieved for the people who inhabited it, as well as two films made in response to Glorious – Becky Edmunds‘ collaged palimpsest made from different shows, and Lucy Cash’s Six Actions:

rajni glorious - Dear Stranger, I Love You

Dear Stranger, I love you

the ethics of community in Rajni Shah Projects’ Glorious

Dear Stranger, I love you offers an in-depth exploration of artist Rajni Shah’s Glorious, an experimental performance project that began with a series of conversations between strangers and ended in a large-scale theatre production involving local residents and musicians in each location where it was presented…

The publication brings together four ways of looking at Glorious: a short film made in response to six performances of Glorious by filmmaker Becky Edmunds; a music video shot in and around Lancaster and Morecambe by Lucy Cash; a critical overview of the process behind two iterations of the project by Elizabeth Lynch; and The Glorious Storybook, a collection of memories from throughout the process, edited and contextualised by writer Mary Paterson…

Happiness At Work ~ edition one

Happiness At Work – edition one

Welcome to our very first online paper.


Here is our guide to this edition.  Every week we will curate a selection of the best stories, videos, sounds, pictures, reviews, tools and techniques from across the web that we hope will bring you ideas and fresh thinking to top up, invigorate and replenish your own  potential to flourish and thrive – at work and in your larger lives.

The paper.li app we are using to make this is an exciting way to curate a collection of web-based stories around a theme, in our case, our passionate quest to help build a world of happier people, who thrive on change and inspire the people around them.   It does not however give us any editorial control over how these stories are arranged and exhibited – its machine technology has chosen the section headings and what to group in them.   So here is our index for this week’s edition, using the section headings we would like to be able to provide.

We hope this gives you a better map to find your way to the ideas you are most interested in.

Here are some highlights in this week’s collection . . .

Understanding and Thinking About Happiness and Wellbeing

~ I have attempted to pull together a deliberately contradictory and competing weave of ideas about happiness in The I of (Un)Happiness – is our increasing knowledge making us happier?  See what you think…

~ Thinking about his work with startup founders, Joel Gasgoine points to the affect altruism has to our happiness in his blog Want To Be Happy and Successful?  Bring Happiness To Others

For today’s working women this is not such a winning formula.

~ Sheryl Sandberg eloquently raises more difficult issues about belonging and having a place at the table in her TedTalk Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders.  This presentation is part of the conversation about the barriers to flourishing that women continue to face that has recently been very alive in the states from Marie Slaughter’s article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,  and in the UK around the debate asking Why is theatre so male, white and middle class?

Tools & Techniques

~ An introduction to the highly recommended Happiness At Work Survey, newly-launched last month by Tony Hsieh of Zappos & Nic Marks of the new economic foundation.  You can also see an earlier video of Nic Marks’ The Happy Planet Index TedTalk in videos.

~ Do Something You Love Every Day is the first of Susan Heathfield’s Top Ten Ways To Be Happy At Work;

~ You can hear and/or read Ben Waber recommendations for moving coffee stations and increase diversity as two of the Concrete Steps for Creating A Happier Office;

~ Team Building with Future Boards offers a creative approach to support collaborative strategy and work planning

~ For anyone feeling stuck in the wrong job, Amy Gallo offers six possibilities for becoming happier at work in her Harvard Business review article: Don’t Like Your Job – Change It (without quitting)

Ideas for Leaders

This week’s edition concentrates on motivation…

~ In How To Keep Your Employees Motivated Guy Farmer recommends:

1 – Praise your employees

2 – Create a workplace where people celebrate each other

3 – Give people meaningful work

4 – Value people equally, and

5 – Have a plan to keep people motivated.

Not earth shattering in its new thinking but we wonder how many leaders have these five things on their habitual range of management approaches?

~ RSA Animate – Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us is exactly what it says it is says. Enjoy.

~ Sheena Iyengar has some powerful new ideas about our new 21st century problem of having far too many choices in How To Make Choosing Easier

~ And Petra Kuenkal argues we need both balance and mindfulness to create and keep sustainability in our lives as much as in our leadership in her article Sustainability Leadership: how can we combine flatland and wonderland?

Learning and Self-Mastery  

We’ve pulled together a series of stories connected to the need for us to try and find balance, usually meaning making moments to slow down, even stop, and get some new air in our lungs and brains …

~ a simple introduction in Ed Halliwell’s School of Life blog On a Mindful Manifesto;

~ more detailed and very practical techniques in Melanie Greenberg’s Nine Essential Qualities of Mindfulness;

~ The Logic of Insomnia talks about how a racing brain prevents a good night’s sleep, emphasising the need for us to learn how to control our thinking that is key to a great deal of happiness and well-being approaches, including mindfulness;

~ and I have pulled together a clutch of further ideas linked to this theme in my performancemarks blog How To Be A Happy Freelancer – Tips for Getting A Good Work-Life Balance that has helpful tips for people working in organisations too, including how to get free of The Busy Trap

~ the importance of continually learning is highlighted in Moodscope’s blog, You, The Sponge;

~ James Levine advice for us To Stay On Schedule, Take A Break – ideally every fifteen minutes in fact.  We’d love to hear from anyone who works from a computer who actually comes close to achieving this!

This Week’s Books

Our number one book pick this week

Our favourite reference for understanding Happiness At Work we know: Jessica Pryce-Jones practical, intelligent and helpful book of research and practical ideas: Happiness At Work – Maximising Psychological Capital for Success.  Hear her talking about its main ideas in this Happiness At Work clip. You can take the online Science of Happiness iOpener People & Performance Survey that accompanies these ideas to get your own free report about your happiness at work.

~ Richard Wiseman brings some of the ideas from his book Rip It Up in his guardian article Self-Help – Forget Positive Thinking, Try Positive Action;

Brain Pickings ~ Maria Popova

Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings is so good that we’ve made it the first automatic feed into our Happiness At Work.  Here are highlights we’ve posted in this week’s edition…

~ Popova reviews the headline stealing latest addition in the UK to the happiness literature, Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote in Against Positive Thinking – Uncertainty as the Secret of Happiness.

~ Hear some of Burkeman’s ideas from his book in his RSA – The Antidote talk;

~ Prompted by Burkeman’s book, Popova provides a great précis of Learned Optimism: Martin Seligman on Happiness, Depression and the Meaningful Life.  Seligman is one of the most important thinkers in Positive Psychology, and we still think his model for what he emphatically calls Flourishing is one of the best frameworks on offer – a combination of Positive Emotion + Engagement + Great Relationships + Meaning from what we do + a sense of Accomplishment.  If we want to increase our happiness one of the best places to start is by considering which of these five might me undernourished, and try to do something to improve it.

~ We have also included Maria Popova’s 7 Must-Read Books in the Art & Science of Happiness – five of these are on our favourites list, two we haven’t read yet.

~ “Good music can act as a guide to living.” This quote from John Cage begins Popova’s review of his new biography Where the Heart Beat: John Cage, Zen Buddhism and the Inner Life of Artsists.

This Week’s Video and Music

One of the most inspiring things we’ve seen for some time was the Nicola Benedetti Southbank Show talking about her music and her involvement with Sistema Scotland, the most extraordinary and wonderful experiment in using music to help people to flourish.  There is so much here for us to pay attention to and learn from… Enjoy her music playing Bruch’s Violin Concerto – Nicola Benedetti and the Scottish Symphony Orchestra

~ Bobby McFerrin’s Demonstrating the Power of the Petonic Scale is 3minutes of pure delight.

~ Charles Hazelwood’s much longer TedTalk Trusting the Ensemble is really worth watching all the way through to enjoy his inspiring and quirky illustrations to his central message, that “where there is trust, there is music and, by extension, life. Where there is no trust music withers away.”

~ In Shilo Shiv Suleman’s Using technology to enable dreaming TedTalk of animated iPad wizardry, she makes us think about how to use our technology to step further inside our experiences, rather than pulling ourselves away and outside them.

~ Michael Norton tells us how we should be spending in his TedTalk How To Buy Happiness

~ More sheer enjoyment and delight in Abigail Washburn’s Building US-China relations… by banjo

~ And quite possibly the happiest band on the planet Pink Martini’s Hang On Little Tomato – no pictures in this video, just the music to enjoy.

We really hope there is something in this collection that you will find both helpful and enjoyable.  

Do please visit us at BridgeBuilders STG on Facebook and let us know what you think, add your own stories and ideas about Happiness At Work, and tell us anything you would really like to get in future editions Happiness At Work paper.li  


‘I Am the Wind’ at Young Vic

A Young Vic/ Théâtre de la Ville-Paris co-production co-commissioned by Wiener Festwochen (Vienna), les Nuits de Fourvière/ Département du Rhône, Festival Grec 2011 – Barcelona and Festival d’Avignon

I Am the Wind

by Jon Fosse
English language version by Simon Stephens

Until 21 May 2011

http://www.youngvic.org/whats-on/i-am-the-wind

I Am the Wind

Creative team

Direction Patrice Chéreau
Artistic collaboration Thierry Thieû Niang
Design Richard Peduzzi
Costumes Caroline de Vivaise
Light 
Dominique Bruguière

Music Éric Neveux
Casting Sam Jones
Assistant lighting designFrançois Thouret
Assistant Director Peter Cant
Literal translation Øystein Ulsberg Brager

Cast

Tom Brooke
Jack Laskey

The wind gathers, rising up suddenly.

Two men on a fragile boat, a trip to sea – a few drinks, a bite to eat – when one of them decides to push on to the open ocean.

Suddenly there they are: among the distant islands, the threatening fog and gathering swell of the sea, bound together on an odyssey into the unknown.

France’s leading film, opera and theatre director
Patrice Chéreau (La Reine Margot) directs
Simon Stephens (Punk Rock, Lyric Hammersmith) version of Jon Fosse’s (Ibsen Award 2010) contemporary fable.

This was a wonderful experience – a meditation on suicide perhaps, or perhaps an intimate portrayal of someone wilfully casting off his childish self to become the more responsible and more fearful adult he is inevitably growing into. The experience watching it was so close and personal it felt luxuriously a lot like falling inside the pages of a book – the experience yours alone to drift and yearn and ache and lament through.  This is what i recognise as exceptional audience experience – rich and imaginative and evocative and spiritual and human and potent in its capture of life as we can recognise it and yet life as it could and we still want it to be.

Much of this was achieved by the staging – simply stated and roughly dramatic and complex and thrilling in its occasional abrupt surprises (the boat appearing and disappearing) and sharply poetic in its images (the first moments of The Other holding the half naked child-thin body of The One at the edge of the brown water) and intimate (the caressed holding of the two men together on the boat). The appearance and performance of the two actors made it easy for us to fall inside this world – not pretty film star types but ambiguous characterful boy-men who seemed to mostly inhabit the skin of the (same?) man they portrayed for us.

And it made me remember the regret of the fear of riding a horse now that i am grown, remembering how easy and exhilarating it had been to ride as a child.  And to think again of the heady intoxication of an imagined life lived right out on the edge, experiencing at extreme levels of reception, irresponsible and never attainable of course but once upon a time wished for and grasped at despite its impossibility.

Watching the actors secure and vulnerable on their roiling decking, facing out to the limitless horizon, bound to either unglamorous disaster and inglorious turning back and accepting the world that is known and unleaveaable. And all of this thoroughly theatrical and live and immediate.

Exceptional experience that is still full and alive with me days later.

Kaspar by Peter Handke ~ aya theatre

Aya Theatre presents

Kaspar

by Peter Handke

12 JANUARY – 6 FEBRUARY 2011

Show Starts 7.30pm Matinee Starts 2.30pm & 5pm
Running Time 90 minutes Price £10/£8 conc.

Publicity Image: Kaspar

Kaspar Hauser was a mysterious figure who was discovered in a German town square. He could speak only one sentence. Later, it emerged that he had spent his childhood in a dark room, cut off from human contact. He was taken in, taught how to speak, how to be a regular member of society.

Handke re-imagines Kaspar today; an absurd man formed and deformed through his violent exposure to the language of our society – the language of adspeak, corporate phrases and sports platitudes. In this remarkably inventive play, ideas about received speech, conformism and the corruption of the individual are exploded into bizarre and fascinating vocal rhythms and stage images.

Peter Handke is an Austrian playwright whose work has been described as ‘the most strikingly original of all post-war European writing’ (The Times)

This production, supported by Southwark Playhouse, filters Handke’s work through the vapid, sterile spaces of a vast, glass-fronted railway arch on Bankside, near the Tate Modern.

Creative Team

Designer ~ George Moustakas

Dramaturg ~ Alexander Medem

Sound Designer ~ Helen Atkinson

Lighting Designer ~ Anna Sbokou

Cast

Kaspar ~ Ryan Kiggell

Prompters (live) ~ Elisa Terren & Duncan Thomas

Prompter (recorded) ~ Anastasia Hille

Other Kaspars ~ Kat Cooley / Marc Dodi / Genvieve Giron / Jo Leahy / Kassie Starkey / Lexi Bradburn

Friday 21st January 2011
Kaspar by Peter Handke

Handke’s words are dense and densely layered in this wonderful play, and this for me is it’s great virtue. There is the possibility of being saturated in a torrent of words, words over words, words undoing the words that came before them, words driving out and on and under the words they push on to. Right from the start when we hear Kaspar’s one sentence over-repeated: “I wish I was someone like somebody else was once.” And it’s theme is embodied in it’s material: that words have the power to destroy us and leave us derelict and meaningless. And so for me I would have preferred a less physically performed beginning – the clowning ‘learning to walk’ (or ‘foal finding it’s new legs’ as Lynn Gardner had it) was both too literal, as well as forcing an unequal competition with the anguish and sonic escalation of the sound, and in this battle the visual will always win our greatest conscious attention. I have since discovered that Handke has prescribed 7 sequences of physical performance so this is loyal to the text, but the first act, begun thus, failed to get me through this too arresting opening and the subsequent ‘discovery’ of the furniture and an eventual eloquence left me alternating too much through the first half between sitting back in critical observation and a drowsy kind of boredom, despite the immense presence of Ryan Kiggell in the central Kaspar role. Too much to be asked to admire and be impressed by, and then not quite impressive enough.

The corporate-bland archway-redevelopment waiting for it’s new tenancy that provided this pop-up theatre gave exactly the right kind of banal dehumanising non-space with wonderful disappearing sight-lines off to a horizon of beige coloured carpet meeting straw coloured walls, and I enjoyed the stark spinal contrast of the stripped back skeletal furniture (marred by the wardrobe that was wrongly too much veneer). And the old fashioned costuming was both too out of place with the real place we were in and too much the look of the clown (again, and again i have since read this is true to Handke’s intentions). But the microphones on their stands were fiercely potent. One waiting in the wings for its later appearance in the second half, the other two at full attention each side as sentries in front of their tables in front of their performers (the live Prompts), giving their voices full throttle eloquence. And of these two Elisa Terren got the poetry of the writing completely right so that her rhythms and inflexions freed out a full array of meanings and associations from their linguistic stitching.

It was in the second half, with the third microphone in centre stage full throat command for the now spot-lit oratorial Kaspar, that this show really flew for me. The nakedness of the pubic speaker (or solo performer, speech maker, testimony giver, torch singer…), the vulnerable stumbler publicly forced to find his voice and meanwhile revealing too much of everything he tries to hide. There was so much room to enter the performance now and my thoughts and feelings flooded with and out of and over the mounting tsunami of words, phrases, meanings losing their meanings under the weight of their messages. The easy sure quick judgements we can make – we do make – the moment a person stands before us in presentation position. Now the words sing and hurt and discord and cry and break. And I am intensely and immensely moved.

Of course, even if Handke had allowed this framing throughout the whole piece, it probably wouldn’t sustain this public address formulation for full 105minutes duration.

Would it?

Could it???

And be (more) interesting?

Helen Atkinson’s interval soundscape of nearly-heard nearly-recognised mostly-male voices declaiming, decrying, postulating, pontificating and blustering we could imagine with great self-importance – fat heavy words being made to support fat heavy declarations by men who would have too much influence and too little care for the lives they were inflicting their fat heavy sentences on.

(This sound is described by Handke for the interval: ‘…tapes of the prompters’ speeches, sheer noise, actual taped speeches by party leaders, popes, public speakers of every kind, presidents and prime ministers, perhaps even statements by writers and poets at official functions. the sentences should never be complete, but complemented and superseded by other mangled sentences…’)

Also brilliantly realised in the second part was the chorus of other Kaspars, from their clowning hostile occupation of a too-small bench, to their clawing and ripping into sonic crunches and crumplings their brown paper packages, to their animal wailings and bayings, to their fevered attempts to occupy the limelight space of the spotlight in front of the microphone – an aurally anarchic choir that was equally exhilarating and distressing.

This production is honest and vital and brave and confident. It is a special treat to have Handke so well realised. It has inspired my own performance making in all sorts of ways for which I am excited and grateful: an idea for a new pre-show soundscape of male voices speechmakers for white man’s burden to replace the right-sense-of-noise wrong-sense-of-place traffic sounds we have had before; and a renewed excitement to stretch the limits of the lecture as a framing for performance, particularly in connection with different kinds of microphone objects.

And inspirational too how rich and fertile it can be for the ear and the mind to have language used as music – discordant, orchestral, dissonant and anguished.

Goats and monkeys.

Goats and monkeys.

Goats and monkeys.

Goats and monkeys.

Goats and monkeys.